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It Depends Except When It Really Doesn’t

January 5, 2013

I hate either/or questions. I’ve hated them since I was a kid because they rarely allow for any nuanced understanding of the issue. It part of why I never take quizzes in magazines or online, I mean, aside from the fact that they’re mostly bullshit, I always want to answer A and C with a little bit of B thrown in sometimes maybe. Some of this comes out of my debate background. Debaters are trained to see both sides of an issue, both so we can better deconstruct our opponents and because we may be called upon to support the other side later.

So for me, coming down on one side or the other of an issue is usually a process; identify the conflict, construct the argument for both sides, deconstruct the argument for both sides, determine which has more value.There are times, however, when an issue is so blatantly black and white that there is no need for that process. The issue I’m talking about today is one of those, although apparently not for everyone, which frankly, baffles me.

I was part of a conversation today which was long and wide ranging but which was predicated on this basic piece of information:

A 14-year-old girl received a series of text from her best friend (also female and roughly that same age) stating that the friend had been raped the previous night. The friend identified the rapist within these texts and (I believe although this is not entirely clear) expressed a desire not to report.

The adult in question was in no doubt as to her next series of actions. She and her daughter contacted the police about the texts and initiated an investigation.When she announced this, about half the people we were talking to reacted extremely negatively to that information. Most of that half were outraged that the adult would take it up on herself to report the assault without the teen’s permission.

This is the part where I started to tilt my head like a dog hearing a high pitched noise. I live in a state where every adult is a mandatory reporter, so for me, this is a no brainer. Even if I didn’t live in a state wherein I was legally required to report every instance of abuse or assault on a protected group, this is a no brainer.  You report. Of course, you fucking report. A child was assaulted. You report. I do not understand how this is even a question.

If we were talking about an adult I would still be on the side of reporting but I could at least understand the other side of the argument. An adult is theoretically and legally an autonomous being who has the right to make those kind of choices. Children don’t have the responsibilities of adulthood and thus they don’t have the same rights.

This is why people get frustrated with me when they want to tell me a secret.

Them: “Can I tell you something?”

Me: “Yes.”

Them “Do you promise not to tell?”

Me: “Nope. Not even a little bit.”

Silence is poison and part of the power trip that rapists and abusers feed on is not just the act, but convincing themselves that the silence of the victim implies consent.

My abuser used to tell me he knew I liked it because I never told. He would also tell me that no one would believe me and that everyone would hate me if I did tell. Even at four, I knew there was something wrong with those two statements together, but I was too young to understand exactly what.  By the time I was old enough to find the contradiction, he had burrowed into my head too far for me to stop believing the lies on my own.

That’s part of why rape and abuse survivors often report being victimized repeatedly. There are far too many other reasons, as well, but this is one of them. They believe the threat and so they are convinced to buy into the silence. Convincing the victim to maintain the silence is part of the abuse too.

If one adult in my life had noticed that I was showing every single sign of an abused child, if just one of them had stepped up, been the adult and done the right thing, I would have been saved decades of pain and I wouldn’t have to battle his voice in my head every day. I was screaming for help but I was so wounded by the shame and the silence that I couldn’t actually bring myself to speak. I needed an adult to speak for me. Lots of kids do. I was a kid and needed some adult in my life to take that adult decision onto themselves for me. Lots of kids do. No one helped me. Lots of kids experience that too.

Watching people convince themselves that not intervening was the right thing to do, especially using the excuse that they were respecting the child, was profoundly disturbing as well as really disappointing.

Doing the right thing is simple when the right thing and the easy thing are the same. It’s when the right thing and the excruciatingly difficult, painful thing are the same, wherein a person learns who they really are. That’s integrity.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2013 1:27 AM

    I don’t know what else to say other than, I agree completely. Especially because this is a child. The person who reported did the right thing, without a doubt.

  2. January 5, 2013 3:53 AM

    I’m with you – reporting is so important, someone has to know what could be happening!

  3. ann permalink
    January 5, 2013 5:20 PM

    I’m kind of proud that I didn’t lose my shit completely in that conversation. What stopped me was the realization that at least some of the objectors were still trapped in their own childhood brainwashing… still, it’s hard to read.

    • January 5, 2013 5:26 PM

      I’m proud of both of us. I had the same realization. Almost everyone on Team Don’t Report related their objection to their own abuse, a lot of which happened when they were adults. Many of the others were speaking from positions of what they believe as children. The fact that children are so easily convinced to keep silent is the entire reason for mandatory reporting.

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