Dear Dr Laura
A few days ago you posted a question regarding what is the worst case of child abuse each listener has seen and what did he or she do about it? Your question reminded me of an incident that bothers me today, almost exactly 20 years later.
I was in Boston, with my husband for a day trip (we were both about 25). My mother was babysitting our 10 month old daughter. We boarded the bus back to Providence (about an hour away) and were settled in peacefully as the bus started its journey. Within a few minutes I heard a piercing scream, followed by a sharp intake of breath. Soft weeping. Another scream. I turned around in my seat and saw what was going on. An approximately eight year old girl was seated between a muscular man and a worn looking woman, both in their mid-20s. The man was gripping a pinch of skin and muscle on the girl's thigh between his thumb and forefinger, and giving it a vicious twist. She would cry, her mother would weakly say "Joe, stop it" and the sadist would go in for another twist. From my viewpoint of the people involved, I concluded he was her boyfriend or the stepfather of the child.
My blood boiled. I stood up and pointed at him. "STOP IT. Stop it right now. Don't you touch that girl again or I'll stop this bus and have the driver call the police." "I'm not doing anything." He stood up and glowered at me. "They are mine. Keep your f-ing mouth shut." I was so angry that I kept yelling at him and at her "Don't let him do that to your child!" Everyone else on the bus was quite, looking away almost as if nothing at all was going on. Indeed, their lack of reaction confused me. My husband, worried about my safety, tugged on me to sit down. The bus pulled over. The driver came back, slowly, annoyed. "What do you want me to do? You want to make a complaint? Then I'll have to drive this bus to the nearest police station and all these good people are going to arrive into Providence 3 or 4 hours late It'll be 1 a.m.." I thought about my own baby, waiting for me. The driver's obvious resentment also influenced me. And shamefully I said, "Let's go to Providence." The 'boyfriend' moved to another seat and the ride was quiet. He hustled off the bus just before the Rhode Island line, swearing at me "See what you made me do, nosy bitch?" (Perhaps he was afraid I would call the cops if he came into the station with me.)
I have been upset about this from time to time for the last 20 years. I didn't force the bus to go to the police. Perhaps I could have saved that girl from years of torment at the hands of a brute. *Sigh*