Public Response

Your ears perk up as you are paying for your groceries. A frustrated mother jerks her young son’s arm and tells him to stop touching the candy. Now watching, you see her berate the four or five year old, ”Why are you so awful every time I take you anywhere? You’re just a bad kid.” You immediately feel sorry for the child but pay for your groceries and continue your day. In the parking lot, you see them walking toward their car. The mother’s aggression is getting worse. Her words pierce and the insults fly. The boy walks silently and looks to the ground. The mother swings open the car door, grabs the boy’s arm, throws him in the backseat then kicks him in further before slamming the door shut.

What do you do?

This question isn’t easy. Is this just a horrible snapshot at a good but overwhelmed mother’s worst possible moment? Or is that child going home to increasing aggression and definite abuse?

Last week we discussed ways to support, instead of judge, stressed parents during difficult public situations with children. But what do you do when the situation goes beyond frazzled and frustrated? How should we respond when we see public child abuse?

Most of us when faced with public child abuse react with instinctive fight, flight or freeze. We confront the parent to tell them they are wrong. Or maybe, we simply walk away as quickly as possible. Some of us may freeze and stand watching in disbelief, unable to even process. Unfortunately, none of these options usually helps the child.

If you have witnessed non-accidental injury to a child by a caregiver, the best answer is to report the incident to law enforcement or OKDHS. Intervening or confronting the offender may put you or the child at further risk. Call 911 or the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. When you’re making a report, try to remember details like a license plate number, description, time and place.

Oklahoma law mandates every person who has reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected report concerns to authorities. The law places this responsibility on all adults. Reports can be made anonymously, and reporters are provided immunity from civil or criminal penalties if reports are made in good faith.

As we mentioned last week, all parents have been in frustrating, overwhelming, embarrassing public situations with children who can be impossible to control. Let’s always remember to show compassion to support weary parents and diffuse those moments when we can. But let’s also be willing to bravely stand up and make a report when we see a line crossed. We understand that line is very subjective and covered in grey area – we are not encouraging vigilantes out to persecute struggling parents. However, our community desperately needs loving neighbors who care enough to report when children are being purposefully injured. Let’s use compassion and wisdom when discerning the difference and always leave further detective work to the authorities.

If you’d like to learn more about how to recognize and report child abuse, give us a call. We’d love to bring our prevention resources to your Sunday School class, community group or office lunch and learn. There’s no fee for us to provide training – and the information you learn will be invaluable in keeping children in our community safe!