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Witnessing abuse. I just don't know what to do.

post #1 of 70
Thread Starter 
I know there have been discussions about this before, but I just need some fresh and specific ideas.

I live in Chicago and take public transportation everyday. I feel like I regularly witness outright, undeniable child abuse on the bus and train. Parents smacking toddlers faces, yelling at their babies to "Shut the *&%$ up!" while they violently shake their strollers, parents shoving and hitting older children and telling them they are going to "beat the living #&*!" out of them when they get home.

Okay, so here's my deal. I have anxiety issues period that are usually already heightened when on crowded busses and trains (I feel trapped and overwhelmed by intense noises, smells, etc). I also have my own abuse traumas and witnessing violence of any kind makes me shut down. Also, 90% of the time, my 9 year old daughter is with me.

So, those issues withstanding, what should/can I do when I witness this? Because I know I should be doing something. Every time I witness and incident it haunts me and haunts and haunts me. I feel guilty and angry with myself for not doing anything. I feel that my complacency is contributing to the abuse of these children.

But, it starts happening, I freeze, don't know what to do, have a total internal meltdown freak out and then either my stop or their stop comes and that's the end of it. And I spend the rest of the day wondering, "Why didn't I do something? What should I have done? But, oh my god, that mother was so, so angry and she would've freaked on me and I have had dd with me... Should I have told the bus driver? Yeah, right, they would've laughed me off the bus... Should I call the police and give them a description of the person and where they got off the bus and what direction they headed? Would the police take me seriously?" And so on and so on.

This morning dd and I were riding the bus to her school. This woman had a 1.5 to 2 year old in a stroller facing away from her. The child was screaming and crying, the kind where they are gagging and retching. She'd ignore him, ignore him, ignore him and then she'd either yank the stroller really hard or hit him on the top of his head and tell him to, "Shut the *&%$ up!" Then she started holding her hand over his mouth. Oh my god, it was so awful. It was six hours ago and my stomach is still in knots. The bus was so packed and no one, including me, did a thing. The poor little one finally gave up and stopped crying.

Please don't flame me. I know I should do something, but what?
post #2 of 70
Thread Starter 
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post #3 of 70
moved to Parenting
post #4 of 70
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shonahsmom View Post
The poor little one finally gave up and stopped crying.
shonasmom for the mom the reason for her behaviour is rigth there. ignore him got the desired result.

i dont really know what to say. i dont think the main thing is children being mistreated. i think its about watching something abhoring to us and realising how powerless we are.

i am sure you would have the same reaction if you saw the homeless children in south america or the poverty in say india or bangladesh.

i feel i dont really have the right to say anything to you because i am not in your shoes - and so who am i to say anything.

we all have our achilles heel and i am sorry that you have to witness yours every single day.

please let me say while you feel soooo much compassion - remember you dont have to have the solution.

maybe you can be involved in some form of activism. would that help? volunteering somewhere.

i have two areas myself. all the depressed lonely people as well as parenting issues. it just blows me away that life doesnt have to be this way.

so for me i am trying to find grassroots organisations to be involved in. i am also researching how to come up with community events ideas that will bridge the gap. esp. with parenting. that will show the way to other moms that there IS another way of parenting. and funding is available to do that where i am.

i dont know what else to say. and you know what i also feel for them. those moms doing what they are doing. they dont know any better. under a lot of stress. and always assuming due to lack of knowledge that kids behave and understand like adults.

apart from this mama - i dont know what to say. all i can offer you are some big
post #5 of 70
I feel for you. As a former user of CTA, I have also witnessed similar situations and one time did I intervene. It was on the CTA train downtown to Oak Park.

It was a father letting his toddler daughter wander around the train car. Everytime she would get out of his sight, he would yell her name and loudly say "Get your *&#@! back here before I beat the #@$%^ out of you."

The bad language continued for several minutes and I could tell that another couple with a small child sitting nearby was getting uncomfortable hearing it. The swearing was really bad. We're talking f-words used as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

I turned to the man and said in the nicest way possible, "Your daughter is adorable but your language is really ugly and it's upsetting."

Not only did he FLIP OUT, he got in my face, swore at me, called me a racist and continued to rant loudly until he got off on his stop.

So you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Sorry you had to witness this.
post #6 of 70

Maybe bring an ipod with some soothing music and noice canceling headphones? There was nothing you could have done. Maybe if you can find a mantra, you can say that in your head. And if you feel up to it, maybe find a way to volunteer with a group that works to prevent child abuse through education. That way you'll be putting positive energy towards the problem, even if you can't do anything at a particular instance.
post #7 of 70
I am a bit teary-eyed imagining how you must have felt in that situation. I admit, as a mother I sometimes lose my cool... and I'd like to say that I haven't ever let my DD get to me enough that I let myself do something I wasn't proud of. I've swatted her bottom a few times and once I even told her to "shut up!" when I was trying to hear something on the radio and she had repeatedly ignored my requests for quiet so I could hear what I felt *at the time* was an important discussion on NPR. Boy, did I feel horrible that night.

But I'm not making excuses for what that mother was doing to her child. That poor child! I hate it when I see parents letting their children suffer because they have come to adopt the archaic belief that spanking and yelling is a GOOD way to exercise control over their kids. But my guess is that that mom was feeling pretty darned terrible herself. So in a sense, my heart breaks for both of them.

When I see parents behaving badly, it affects me, too. I feel the overwhemling urge to scoop up their child and snuggle and hug them and whisper kind words to them... Seeing a child in pain, either emotionally or physically pulls my heartstrings like a bulldozer.

So, when I see a child being tratedly poorly, I immediately try to spot a child being loved, because in most situations, there isn't anything I really can do for the sad child. So, I look for a babe sleeping peacefully in a sling or a little girl walking along holding her mom's hand and taking in the world around her...

It takes a little bit of the sting out.
post #8 of 70
Wright a letter to the editor of your local paper, etc.
Create a blog where you talk about these things you see - reference it.
Get people to see it without having to risk yourself to confront.
post #9 of 70
I was in a position last month where I witnessed a mother repeatedly hitting her young DD (my guess around 2.5yo) outside my dr's office. I did intervene in the situation, and it got very heated very quickly. I wrote a post about it in the GD forum looking for some advice on how I could have handled the situation better should I ever encounter it again.

These are two of the pieces of advice that I received and found to be extremely helpful. Mainly it is about using GD techniques on the parent in order to help deescalate the situation. I hope their advise is able to help you as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GuildJenn View Post
It's too easy to armchair quarterback. I think you did fine.

For myself I've found the rare time I've been in that kind of situation that it really helps to empathise with the parent. I forget where I picked this up - the technique is right out of How to talk so kids will listen... but I think I read a discussion online too.

So I might say something like, "Wow they can be so hard to take out at this age!... You must be really frustrated and angry..." (and then this is hard to convey but quite often at that point the parent will often respond with a litany of "the bad day" and it's pretty easy to work in something like "I figured it must be a bad day to actually get to the point of hitting this precious little defenseless person." Or something a little less smarmy.)

It is really awesome how sometimes reflecting the person's feelings will diffuse a situation.
Quote:
Originally Posted by wallacesmum View Post
I think I would focus on the empathy with the parent AND with the child. Even if you were approaching gently, you were approaching with judgment and that obviously made her defensive. Who knows what she is like the rest of the time, what her motivation is, whatever. Rather than speculate, maybe I would try to say:

"Can I help? You seem really frustrated! Are you frustrated (to parent)? Are you frustrated (to child)?" If the issue is just putting shoes on, sometimes diffusing the energy and having another person step in can "solve" that problem. Sometimes when ds doesn't want to do something that I want to do, like leave a store that is closing, it helps if a store employee can gently tell ds that the store is closing, they are going to lock the doors, whatever.
post #10 of 70
I've ridden buses and watched this kind of stuff go on all the time, too. One day this lady was pulling a little boy by the arm down the street telling him to keep up or she would beat his &*(&^. He didn't have a jacket on, and it was cold, and the lady had a big jacket on and so did the older child walking down the street.

I don't know what happened to me, but something in me snapped and I decided that this was the last time I would just watch.

I crossed the street (my 3 kids were with me, me holding the baby) and said in a loud, confrontational, but not mean voice "CAN I HELP YOU?" I looked the woman right in the eye. I think I must have freaked her out, because here is this shortie in her face with all these kids (I'm five feet tall). She didn't really respond to me, but I think it must have helped a bit... at least she stopped dragging the child and yelling at him for a minute.

Is it a situation where you could talk to the mother, say something like can I help you?

Could you also talk to the bus driver? I've known some very preachy bus drivers (for lack of a better term) who will stop the bus and go back and talk to people about their behavior, over something as little as drinking water on the bus...

post #11 of 70
Well, I guess I will be the voice of dissent. Since becoming a parent, I have had to face similar issues with anxiety (crowding, noise, smells) and former verbal and physical abuse that are my triggers. For me, dealing with and healing my issues has allowed me to stick up for that child. I remember ma_vie_en_rose's thread and I agree with the techniques that she noted in her reply. By having the self-confidence to say something, you won't have to deal with the guilt. I know, easier said then done.
post #12 of 70
Quote:
Originally Posted by emgremore View Post
Well, I guess I will be the voice of dissent. Since becoming a parent, I have had to face similar issues with anxiety (crowding, noise, smells) and former verbal and physical abuse that are my triggers. For me, dealing with and healing my issues has allowed me to stick up for that child. I remember ma_vie_en_rose's thread and I agree with the techniques that she noted in her reply. By having the self-confidence to say something, you won't have to deal with the guilt. I know, easier said then done.
You don't need to feel guilty if you don't do anything.
post #13 of 70
woah hitting in public is a whole different story and here can get you arrested.

i have witnessed one in the grocery store when the cop was there.
post #14 of 70
For the woman holding her hand over the babys face, call 911 if you ever see something like that again.
post #15 of 70
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by emgremore View Post
Well, I guess I will be the voice of dissent. Since becoming a parent, I have had to face similar issues with anxiety (crowding, noise, smells) and former verbal and physical abuse that are my triggers. For me, dealing with and healing my issues has allowed me to stick up for that child. I remember ma_vie_en_rose's thread and I agree with the techniques that she noted in her reply. By having the self-confidence to say something, you won't have to deal with the guilt. I know, easier said then done.
Can you give me some examples where you stood up for a child in a similar situation and what the outcome is like?
post #16 of 70
I don't have any advise but I did want to offer empathy. I recently moved to Chicago after living 8 years in San Francisco. I am APPALLED at the violence, verbal and physical, I see every day towards children. On the bus. Outside of my daughter's school. Everywhere. If anyone dared to smack a child across the face in public in SF someone would be on the phone to the police in a heartbeat. If a mother threatened to beat the #%$& out of a child when picking her up after school the teacher would call CPS immediately. It seems to me that something needs to be done to turn this around because I know it doesn't have to be this way. I know confronting a stressed out mother on the bus won't help anything. But where to start, ya know?
post #17 of 70
Wow! I really sympathize. I was once walking to school (over 13 years ago), and I heard this mother slapping and cussing at a screaming child for wetting the bed. I am still traumatized by it, and I sincerely wished I would have called social services and reported the abuse.

I too have witnessed the mother on the bus cussing at a child. It is so uncomfortable, especially as I am a small person with a high voice, and I get easily intimidated.

I can't honestly give you an opinion about when you have to let things go, and when you intervene. Sometimes, I see parents ignoring a screaming infant in a grocery cart and I just want to say "pick the baby up!" I also see people walking babies in strollers or carrying infant seats while smoking. I want to say something then also. But, I just let it go. Nobody is perfect! I have yelled at and ignored my children on occasion.

However, I agree with the above sentiment. Physical abuse is a different issue. I think if I ever see/hear physical abuse again, I will intervene. Talking to the bus driver may be an option. I witnessed a man "telling" on another mom at the library. It was very effective--the hitting mother saw the librarian as an authority figure, and not just a meddler.

One thing I can suggest is to talk to your daughter, since she is a witness. Let her know that this is not acceptable behavior, and that you feel badly for these children.
post #18 of 70
While we feel really compelled to try to make the world a better place, particularly with regard to how children are treated, I don't think that it is the responsibility of anyone to change the parenting practices of anyone but themselves.
For starters, confronting a parent who is angry/frustrated enough to treat their child in such a way is very likely to end up with them taking that anger out on you instead, possibly putting you in physical danger. Secondly, even if you did manage to prevent the abuse at the time, it would almost certainly be only a very temporary fix. The parent in question is not going to change their whole behaviour and parenting outlook on the basis of an encounter with a stranger. To make the world a better place we would probably be better off encouraging 'good' behaviour. When you see an example of parenting that makes you feel awful, look around until you find an example of parenting you like and make a point of praising that parent for what they are doing right.
OP - you're pregnant and you usually have your daughter with you. There is absolutely no sense in trying to interfere directly and putting yourself and your children in a potentially dangerous situation. No one would expect you to - you shouldn't expect it of yourself.
post #19 of 70
Quote:
Originally Posted by lisabeeprague View Post
For starters, confronting a parent who is angry/frustrated enough to treat their child in such a way is very likely to end up with them taking that anger out on you instead, possibly putting you in physical danger.

OP - you're pregnant and you usually have your daughter with you. There is absolutely no sense in trying to interfere directly and putting yourself and your children in a potentially dangerous situation. No one would expect you to - you shouldn't expect it of yourself.
:

I think if you have to ride this bus every day, you have to be aware that someone might try retribution if you do confront them. I would try to anonymously through the public trans. authorities. Can you call the bus company? And tip them off that there is someone being assaulted on the bus, you are afraid to report it for your safety, but need an officer to ride the bus or something to make it stop.

And if it is serious, call the police non-emergency line and talk to them. Get the beat cops name, and call him...

post #20 of 70
We have a non-profit group here that offers parenting classes and assistance for "at-risk" families (families at risk of domestic abuse). Can you find something like that in the city, and keep their business cards/pamphlets with you in your purse? Then when you see a parent struggling, you can just give them the number and say something like, "I can see you're having a bad day. Maybe this can help."

Just a thought...
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