Back in 2003, I was deployed to Iraq. I moved from one unit to another and it wasn’t long before I made new friends.
One friend in particular, a fellow soldier, confided in me that she was being physically abused by her boyfriend. At the time, that was my very first combat deployment, six years into my Army career. I was a feeling a combination of all sorts of emotions, not to mention I was married to my current wife back then as well.
One emotion I felt was fearless, whether it was sensible or not at the time, at the age of 24. When my friend told me about her boyfriend, right away, I was ready to report it. I was angry. I didn’t care that the guy was bigger than me and I wasn’t afraid of him maybe coming back on me once he found out. I just knew that my friend needed me and I wanted to be there for her.
I was half right. She needed me. But not in the way I thought.
When I mentioned that I would report the abuse, she practically begged me not. This is where the “or not sensible” part of all this comes in as far as me being fearless goes. The only reply I could give was, “Why?! Why should I not say something?! You want this asshole to stop, right?! So why are you saying not to tell?!!”
Her response was to the effect, “Because I don’t know if he’ll get in trouble. And if he doesn’t, then he’ll make it worse for me. PLEASE…don’t say anything. I don’t want him to keep beating on me.”
I just froze. There I was, READY to report this physical abuse. And the ONE person who asked me not to tell was the very one it was happening to.
I couldn’t imagine what my friend was feeling. However, even worse in some ways was that I was able to help, but I had to stay there with my hands tied behind my back, especially since I had to see both of them each and every day out there, and I had to keep quiet about what was going on. Add that on top of the other stressors involved during the beginning of a combat deployment and you can understand my dilemma.
Even though I completely disagreed, I understood what my friend was telling me. At that age, as fearless as I thought I was, I was smart enough at that time to know that unless there was a 100% chance of him getting in trouble and/or stopping, not only would my friend have to continue enduring this physical abuse, but she would be angry with me having gone against her better wishes. I would have let her down.
But in not knowing what to do, I feel like I let her down also.
I am still hurt by this today, 14 years later. I’m not certain as to how much more physical abuse she had to endure, but there was another time once we made it back where I texted her about she going with my wife and I to another city (we were stationed in Germany at the time) and she texted back to say that he was in her room and she was afraid. Again…she begged me to just let it go. Thankfully, she made it through safely.
Please do not comment with all of what she or I should have done. I think both of us have it figured out by now and even if we didn’t, it wouldn’t help.
The point is that damn near everyone knows what to do either after the fact or when there is little to no personal commitment or involvement. We all have the answers then.
When it comes to something like this, racism or sexism, we all know about the ones who support/make excuses for it. We also know about the ones who speak up against it.
But what about those who don’t say anything?
We live in a “pick a side” society. So there are MANY out there who think that not blatantly choosing one side automatically means you support the other.
After reading my story, would you say it’s safe to assume that I absolutely do NOT support women being physically abused? However, if you did NOT know all of it and the only information you had was that I knew about the abuse but didn’t say anything, would you believe I supported it? I AM a man after all. Of course we all support each other. The “bro code” and everything.
On social media, everyone is crusader. The world’s toughest issues can be solved with nothing more than a quote, a meme, a GIF (meaning Graphics Interchange Format; those really short videos that endlessly loop after a few seconds, usually with a phrase at the bottom, depending on what’s in the video). I can barely get through five statuses before I start seeing these. Often, I just shake my head. I understand that they are sometimes meant to promote optimism, to uplift, or to help our friends out. But do they really help? After all, all the answers are on social media, no problem. But when I walk outside my door, BOOM…all the problems are still there.
When it comes to bad people, it also doesn’t take long before we see or hear people say, “SPEAK UP!!” again, assuming that the problem exists largely because of those who do not, or that those who don’t speak up agree with what’s going on. I will admit, I am sometimes guilty of this also.
However, I believe that in our efforts to put a stop to the bad things people say and do, especially in terms of racism, sexism, or all forms of bullying and abuse, then some respect needs to go toward those third parties who don’t say anything. And I don’t mean in a judgmental way.
You can badger people all day on social media to “SPEAK UP.” But if they don’t do it, then you haven’t accomplished anything. However, just like with my story above, why don’t some people say anything? And should we be realistically angry at them for not doing so?
No, I don’t believe we always should. Here are some reasons why:
My story above. Again…I was READY to go and say something. But the reason I didn’t wasn’t because I was afraid. Or a man. Or didn’t know the guy. Or was making excuses. Or was being threatened. The one who begged me to keep quiet was the very one this was happening to. Today, at nearly 40 years old, of course I would know how to handle it. But at 24 and this being among the first times I had ever seen this, no…I wouldn’t.
They are threatened. If my friend’s boyfriend back then found out I was ready to say something and he chose to threaten me and/or her, would it be unreasonable that that would be enough to shut me or her up? Before you answer, remember…we were in a combat zone at the time. We were walking around with rifles and easy access to ammunition. Need I say more?
Job Security/Insecurity. Women continue to experience this more times than any of us can count. The classic “quid pro quo” where sure, they may get something if they accept sexual advances by a superior, but they also risk getting fired or demoted if they don’t. And social media “crusading” doesn’t help here. It’s easy for us to say to “just do it!” but this isn’t a Nike commercial. If you are someone who has job security (salary or cannot be fired for whatever reason) and/or you know you have a handful of jobs lined up if you are ever terminated, then losing your job is nothing more than a speed bump. You’ll be fine shortly. But how about that woman or even again, that third party who struggled to get that job, has little job security, is in an extremely expendable position and lives worse than paycheck-to-paycheck? We all have the answers when we’re not the ones taking the test.
Fear of No Action Being Taken. You simply don’t believe anything will happen to the person involved as both the victim AND the third party. This is another one women experience at a sickeningly infinite rate. Why continue to bang your head against the wall if the only person who ever ends up hurt from it is you? Eventually, that just takes a toll. People want to say something…but after previous experiences and attempts, they often just feel it isn’t worth it.
Action Being Taken Against The Wrong People. As a soldier for 20 years, I have seen this one COUNTLESS times. Since getting kicked out of the Army is a little more complex than a soldier simply receiving a “pink slip,” many times, they are just moved to different sections or units. For example, a woman reports sexual harassment and/or assault. Of course, action has to be taken, but I’ve seen instances where she was moved either a step down from where she was or was placed in a position that sees absolutely no advancement. On the other side, I’ve seen where the alleged perpetrators were moved to much more favorable positions. Whatever the case, the behavior doesn’t stop just because someone is moved. That just means the problem gets “moved” with them. Either a new potential victim is in the picture, or the perpetrator being moved means he harasses or assaults elsewhere.
They Are Not Believed. I can’t tell you how many times either the victims or third parties have straight-up come forward, put it all on the table and I mean EVERYTHING, and were totally blown off. There isn’t enough time in the rest of this year or my life to explain all the reasons one may not be believed, but a few include: who the alleged perpetrator is and how favorable his reputation; the reputation of the one making the claim; how “feasible” it sounds that it could have happened, and many MANY more. Remember when you were a child, you told your parents something and they didn’t believe you? How fast and comfortable were you to tell them something else?
Little To No Punishment. Brock Turner. Enough said. If you don’t know who he is, look him up.
I could go on forever with this, I really could. Even though I brought the potential victims into the discussion, try to remember how it may be for a third party as well or all those times something is happening and we remember those who don’t speak up. There are all kinds of reasons they wouldn’t and yes…many may be downright despicable.
But we shouldn’t assume that they all are. Just because a person doesn’t speak up against something doesn’t mean they support it. How do we get to the bottom of it to encourage them to do so?
If I had another few hours to write, I would. But the truth is that it all depends on the person. The first step would be in understanding that there are MANY people who fall in this category. They want to do what’s right.
So rather than just beat the hell out of them, implying how horrible they are for keeping quiet, let’s help them out a little bit. Let’s look at the whole picture. Talk to these folks. Find out about THEM. Badgering doesn’t work. Again, I still feel horrible about my friend 14 years later. You think getting kicked in my ass all that time as people believed I kept it quiet because I wanted to would make me feel any different? No, it wouldn’t.
Encourage them to come forward. If you are someone who falls in this category, we know you’re out there. You want to say something and something else is stopping you. We understand.
Let’s work together to try and get this right. We owe it to society and most importantly…the victims who have to suffer through this.