Nobody wants to knowingly put themselves in an awkward position; we get it. Maybe you saw something or suspected something. Maybe it was an innocent touch or comment. But maybe not. You’re just not sure, so you do nothing. However, it is better to speak up than stay silent. (More on this later.) But what if ‘speaking up’ seems too scary or daunting, or even inappropriate, given how unclear you are about what you saw or suspect?
- What if calling the police or contacting the principal, or emailing the head coach seems just a bit too much at this point?
- What should you do then?
Here are a few suggestions based on our law firm’s collective decades of handling sexual abuse cases.
- Think about it. Ponder this possibility: years down the road, someone from the police or your employer or another institution (a church, school, university, daycare center, civil attorney) calls you and says, “We have reason to believe that Person A might be an abuser. Can we ask you a few questions?” Were that to happen, presumably, you would want to be as helpful as possible. After all, the stakes are large here: a dangerous person could be charged, convicted, and jailed, or kept away from vulnerable adults and innocent kids in other ways (being fired, for example, or having their teaching certificate revoked). So that you CAN be helpful if you choose to be, we at Horowitz Law urge you to consider these steps.
- Document anything and everything you can. Save texts, emails, and letters about the incident, no matter how tangential they may seem. Send an email to yourself. Print a hard copy and then xerox or scan that documentation & keep a copy in a safe separate place.
- Consider sending that documentation to a trusted friend or loved one, maybe with a note saying, ‘If I’m dead or senile, and you hear of an investigation into possible abuse at Workplace A or Institution B or Church C, please give these pages to whoever is conducting that investigation.”
- Get outside advice. Call a rape crisis center or ask an attorney or law enforcement person you may know, explain the situation, and ask for their input. It’s never been easier – with social media, email, and all the rest – to get guidance from others who’ve faced situations like the one you face. (Via social media, this can usually be done anonymously.)
- Do a bit of research. Go online and ask the appropriate questions (“Is it legal in my state for a minister to do X?” or “What should I do if I see an adult doing Y with a child?”)
There’s no reason to struggle with tough decisions alone and without help. And at the risk of preaching, there’s no excuse for doing nothing. That’s what predators want from us: they want us to feel trapped in our doubt and fear, and uncertainty.
There’s another benefit to your documenting as much as you can and taking these other steps when facing a situation that is worrisome for you: It may give you some peace of mind. Often, doing something feels better than doing nothing. “But I’m just one person. I don’t have enough information to make a difference or be helpful.” That may, of course, be true.
But you can’t be sure. Even if you have a background in policing or prosecuting or the law or psychology, you may be too close to the situation to evaluate it objectively. Others with some experience or more distance may be better able to assess whether the abuse happened or is about to happen than you can. Let’s go back for a minute to ‘the short answer’ mentioned at the beginning of this blog.
We at Horowitz Law believe that, when push comes to shove, it’s almost always best to err on the side of action. Though the numbers may be staggering, we’ll never know how many adults are later consumed with guilt and kick themselves after abuse is revealed, saying, “If only I’d said or done something. In these tense, confusing situations, others often say to us, “Trust your gut.” That can be good advice, though, at the same time, we should remind ourselves that our ‘gut instincts’ are to protect ourselves and to do what’s safe, which is often interpreted as doing nothing.
What if you end up having misinterpreted an innocent touch or a harmless gesture? Later, you may be embarrassed. Later, you may feel obligated to apologize to someone. Later, you might be uncomfortable around someone who may have faced some awkward questions. On the other hand, however, if you have indeed told the appropriate decision-makers about what turns out NOT to be an innocent touch or a harmless gesture, you may well have saved one child or several children from a horrific and painful betrayal that leads to a lifetime of depression, insomnia, addictions, eating disorders, intimacy avoidance, sexual dysfunction or even suicide.
Pondering these common after-effects of sexual violation should make your decision a bit less difficult – perhaps permanent trauma for several kids versus likely temporary discomfort for one adult. So err on the side of action, even if it’s a very safe action, like documenting what you’ve seen or heard in ways that could help down the road. The smallest action is still action.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse. While nothing can undo the past, our attorneys dedicate their careers to supporting survivors as they move forward in the healing journey. Sexual abuse victims across the country suffer deeply from the violations and betrayals by the people they should have been able to trust the most. If you need a lawyer because you were sexually abused, contact our office today. We can help. Contact us at 888-283-9922 or send an email to [email protected] to discuss your options today.