The Helping Witness Next Door
A Letter to Project NoSpank, September 15, 2001

Thank you for your hard work and this very important Web site. As an adult who grew up in a household where I was physically abused, your web site has given me the resources to do a lot of healing and thinking. So thank you again.

As I have been thinking about this horrendous issue, I realize that all too often the only solution seems to be exposing the horror and advocating its elimination. But I think there is also another solution--a parallel to it would be the way that Oscar Schindler dealt with the Nazis in order to help the Jews. Schindler engaged the Nazis to the extent he could in order to have a degree of contact with them which in turn gave him a degree of influence over the Nazis.

I bring this up because something similar happened in my life. I was abused: hit with shoes, belts, electric cords, sticks, fly swaters or anything else nearby. The family next door didn't hit their kids. While they never confronted my parents, they made me feel very welcome in their house. I used to go there almost every day for an hour or so. I remember I sometimes would talk about what went on at home and most of the response I got was a quiet, thoughtful silence. Just having a safe place to go and to talk about it was very helpful to me. I am sure that if my parents had been confronted the outcome would have been that they would have put an end to my visits.

But in addition because they maintained a surperficially, cordial relationship with my parents, my neighbors had a degree of influence. While this influence didn't stop the abuse, it contained it and prevented its escalation. For example, I went over and complained that my mother wanted to wash my hair and how I hated it because lately she had taken to boiling water on the stove and using that to wash my hair. I remember the lady next door said: "boiling?" She used a calm tone when she said this. And that's all she said. But I think I took that as my cue that this was serious. So I went home and told my mother--in the same calm voice the lady next door had used -- "I told them next door you would be boiling water to wash my hair." I remember my mom becoming a bit agitated and asking what had they said. I said she had said, "Boiling?" My mom wanted to know what else. I said nothing else had been said. For whatever reason that brief communication put an end to her using boiling water to wash my hair. It never happened again.

A very similar thing happened once after she used a broom stick to hit me. As a result she never used a broom stick again.

One summer after we had gone to visit a friend of my mom's, my mom started hitting me daily and sometimes several times a day. I couldn't stand it. So (I must have been about eight) I went up to her and very calmly said something like, "Look since we visited so and so I am getting hit daily; this is way more often than before. It's too much for me. Can't things go back to the way they were before." And they did. She stopped what at that time seemed like an avalanche of abuse. Had I not had the experience of seeing how my neighbors talked to each other to resolve their differences and how they reacted to my mother, I am not sure that I could have persuaded my mother to scale back her abuse.

I know that these types of events are not what you are looking for in the pursuit of your goal to get people to stop hitting kids. However, I did want to point out that when one is a kid that is getting abused, it is very comforting to know that while one can't stop the abuse there are things one can to do to lessen it or to keep it from escalating. It is comforting to know that there are ways one can help oneself to survive.

I am not sure I have explained this well at all. Again thanks for your work.

[Name withheld by request]


See: What Should I Do When I See Someone Hitting Their Kid? Eleven Strategies for All Personalities and Occasions By Debra L. Stang

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