What Would You Do?

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on November 25, 2011 9:52 am

What would you do?

In the past few months, I have enjoyed watching the show, “What would you do?” with John Quinones of ABC News.  I have benefitted from watching Mr. Quinones approach to querying a host of ethical, moral, legal, and life questions.  His show has reengaged many of my own questions on life, as well as, creating new questions for me to ponder.  In this article, I will be using John Quinones line of questioning and theoretical approach, to asking the tough questions.

What Would You Do, if you were privy to the knowledge of a child being harmed?

In my practice, I have sadly received the egregious reports that a child has been intentionally harmed.  I have received these reports directly from the lips of those being abused, as well as, through those who have either witnessed or been informed of the abuse.  Unfortunately, the authorities will not pursue legal action against “all” types of abuse.  As a therapist, this can drive you mad when you recognize how your client-patient is being negatively impacted by the abuse.  Furthermore, as a therapist you want your client-patient to feel safe, secure, and capable of reaching out for help; but when the abuser is capable of winning through the legal authorities’ incompetencies, or through the restraints placed on the authority, you become like the mad hatter seeking ways to positively influence the authorities’ decisions. 

How do we define abuse? What is abuse? Are not many forms of abuse subjective?  Indeed, many forms of abuse are subjectively influenced, so how do we come to an agreeable definition, when the definition of abuse is in the eye of the beholder? The characteristics of abuse can be defined as maltreatment, neglect, repression, oppression, subjection, or any form of cruelty intentional or unintentional.  Abuse does not stop with direct solicitation, it can be experienced on a vicarious level or through indirect experiences.  Abuse can target an individual on a barrage of emotional, financial, sexual, physical, or psychological experiences.

Should not all forms of abuse be taken serious? If so, then how can we create a barometer of abuse that will be universally accepted? As a therapist, I have reported blatant acts of abuse, only to have a legal representative deny my client’s rights to safety.  Furthermore, it is not only abuse that gets rejected, but many acts of violence that have potential harm. Several years ago, I had an experience whereby I unfortunately had to report an individual as having homicidal ideation. Following my preliminary diagnosis, I made contact with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)informing them of this diagnostic impression. The RCMP apprehended the individual taking this person to the local emergency room; only to have the attending emergency physician deny my preliminary diagnosis, thus, sending the individual home.  Ironically, my wife would receive a call the very next day from the RCMP informing her that this individual was indeed displaying signs of homicidal ideation. In fact, the RCMP were alerted by an informant, that my name had been added to this individual’s hit list.  Notably, no one person is perfect, nor will our “calls” on a potential victimizer always be accurate, but it is critically important that we always follow our diagnostic impressions.  It is never wrong to request a professional consultation on a diagnostic impression.  

As therapists, we are called to be diligent with our diagnostic and clinical impressions. I beseech you to consider, if a child of any age is making accusations, to earnestly consider the breadth of his or her claim.  Remember, we have a solemn duty to warn, to protect, and report not only accusations and allegations of abuse, but suspicions and impressions of abuse and neglect involving children of any age. 

Arguably, is not corporal punishment a form of abuse? If abuse is anything offered to cause intentional harm, having a bad or negative effect, or as a strategy of imploring an intentional method to change the pathways of one’s thoughts, deeds, or actions; then should not all forms of corporal punishment be considered abuse? It is incongruent to think that abuse should be defined as anything but corporal punishment. 

Abuse is the catalyst that precipitates or engages a negative act or experience on the life of another. Abuse may not always be perpetuated by an intentional victimizer, sometimes abuse can be employed by ignorance of a negative act or deed.  It is important that we not cast stones at an abuser, especially if an abuser has been trained to think that a particular abusive act is “normal”.  Moreover, if the abuser has been unintentionally offering abusive acts, should we not consider what would be in the best interest of the child, rather than permanently removing the child from their home?  However, this is where we are drawn to a crossroads, because now we have to define; was this parental figure aware of their abusive act or unaware. Is the abusive act ethically and morally reprehensible? Or, is the act capable of receiving some social justification based on an overall acceptability of the act (i.e. many forms of corporal punishment, verbal abuse. etc.)? If you consider many mainstream movies, artists, and television programs; abusive acts have been normalized in our social consciousness.  Therefore, if abuse has been normalized, how do we begin to redefine, establish, and draw sound parameters around what is abusive?  We cannot allow ignorance to be the escape goat? We must hold individuals accountable of their abusive acts, while seeking gentle methods to retrain them on a path that is positively productive. We can not merely end with the definition of abuse, we must diligently seek to eliminate abuse from the lives of all children. 

What Would You Do… if you were privy to the knowledge of a child being harmed?

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

13 comments on “What Would You Do?”

  1. Dear Sheila,

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my latest article. We all hope, whether trained or not, to do “… the right thing for the abused.” Sheila, I am sincerely appreciative of your time and review.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. Sheila says:

    Everything is in the eye of the beholder of course, but I hope that I like the responders above would try to report abuse and find help however possible, and sometimes this help may just be in support of the abuser and trying to educate and teach some what is the right thing to do (again is this individual maybe partially)

    these are interesting food for thought and not always what we want to think about in the way that children are being abused and someone should be doing something,

    What would I do ? I hope the right thing for the abused

    Interesting article,

  3. Kayla Fehr says:

    Dr. Asa Brown,
    Great Article, I really enjoied reading this. I do think that it depends on the culture of what people believe is abuse. I believe that people in the Eastern countries believe in abusing their wives and children but dont view it as abuse, so abuse is a hard topic to define and talk about. I do think that reporting any signs of abuse is very important, whether it is physical or emotional. Emotional abuse can be just as bad or even worse than physical because it is hard to rebuild someones emotions. Even being racist or sexist is abuse. So many people abuse people whom are different than they are whether it is their race, religion, sex, beliefs, disablility, etc. without even realizing they are hurting others, and it should be stopped.
    I look forward to reading future articles.

    Kindest regards,

    Kayla Fehr

    1. Dear Kayla Fehr,

      First of all, my apologies for the delayed response. I totally agree with your sentiments that abuse can be defined beyond physical, sexual, emotional or psychological. As you mentioned, abuse can occur beyond the borders including, but not excluding many other forms not mentioned. As you said, abuse can occur through “…racist or sexist…” actions. Furthermore, it has not barriers, no thought of justice, nor understanding of right or wrong, thus, it is capable of breaking all barriers to fill this world with hate. Finally, it is vitally important, whether or not another feels a topic is racist, that when we are in the presence of racism that we do our best to end it!

      Kayla Fehr, again I am sincerely appreciative of your time and review.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Tracy says:

    Thank you Dr Brown for the once again thought provoking article. It is easy to think that you would report any abuse etc to the athorities, unfortunately each situtation is different. Are you convinced that the reports are accurate and not skewed. As a professional your role may be much less black and white as it is for a member of society. I truly believe that no one; adult, children or elderly should be harmed and we as society need to educate ourselves to help prevent it.

    Thank you again for the intriguing question…What would I do…


    1. Dear Tracy,

      Thank you for taking the time to offer feedback and a review of my latest article. I agree that “no one should be harmed, whether children, adults , or the elderly. In the past, I was a board member of a society serving those with dementia; as I worked for this society it became apparent how profound abuse is on the lives of those suffering from the egregious effects of dementia. Moreover, the discrimination that incurs in this age bracket does remind me of those who are much younger, the youth and children in our society. It is important that we look out for the needs of “all” who live within our global community; rejecting their abuse based on age, intellectual quotient, or other is as detrimental as ignoring the abuse can be.

      Thank you Tracy for taking the time to reply to my latest article.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  5. trevor says:

    I agree that even though it may be the hard choice, abuse must be reported. Especially if it is physical. Yet emotional abuse can impact a child just as much or more than physical. I love the article. Keep up the amazing work.

    1. Dear Trevor

      I am appreciative of your time and feedback. I agree that emotional abuse, along with all other forms of can have a profound impact upon the life of a child. Abuse is abuse is abuse.

      May you have a truly blessed day.

      Warm regards

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  6. I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting.

    1. Dear Andrew J Gephart

      Thank you for your positive remarks.

      May my future articles prove equally as beneficial

      Warm Regards

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  7. Deborah Pickering says:

    Good Day Dr. Brown,
    Whew! This is a very deep and ethical topic for debate. It is so true that what is abhorrent for some, is ‘normal’ for others. I think that members of western society are exposed to so many different levels of culture, ethics, manners, love, abuse, no one type of behavior is consistent at all levels. Some grow up attending church and have a basis in religious education. Others grow up with contempt towards religion, different cultures, and so on.
    While most people are aware that abuse of any form is illegal and immoral, some may indeed be unaware that their ‘normal’ behavior toward others fits into those negative categories. So, no, ignorance is not an excuse for unkind or cruel behavior toward another. The solution lies in widespread education. Education on what society will or will not accept. The laws are in place, but what good are they when society is not in agreement of what is right and wrong?
    An international code of what abuse consists of will be necessary. Each nation would have to agree upon how best to go about first, agreeing on what is considered abuse, and secondly, how to implement the education of that decision. With so many different cultures in the world, it is necessary for modifications of the international agreement to be allowed.
    As for “What would you do?”, I’d like to think that I would always report abuse, or suspected abuse, especially toward a child. The truth is though that I am not sure I would. Based on how I was raised, acceptable society practices, the “mind your own business” attitude, the fact that the ‘teller’ often becomes the bad guy, the one ostracized. An example is seeing/hearing someone yelling loudly at their child. I witnessed this one day while walking through a parking lot and I did want to call the authorities. I did not, I knew the parent, there were dozens of other witnesses, it is an enormous responsibility to call upon the authorities in a matter such as this. It could ruin the family involved, was it really serious enough to warrant calling the authorities? It is thoughts such as these that prevent some from stepping in. Of course, will anything happen because I called? Other than the possible public devastation of the family, probably not. The child will still be with its’ parents and the abuse will continue, maybe in another form, but it will continue.
    Yes, “we must diligently seek to eliminate abuse from the lives of all children.” Somehow, we have to gain the knowledge and have the confidence to be able to say, “Hey! That’s not right! Stop it!” , without fear of retribution. Great question Dr. Brown
    Cheers, Deb P.

    1. Tracy says:

      Deb…thanks for your input. I agree it is a difficult question as society, cultures and traditions do not all agree to what is acceptable and what is not. The more we discuss and review these issues the more aware people will become.

      Thanks again


    2. Dear Deb P.

      Thank you for taking the time to review my latest article, as well as, offering a very extensive review. I agree that standardizing the term and concept is a necessity. As a global community, we have developed standards of basic human rights through organizations such as the “United Nations.” Developing a uniformed definition can occur, but it will take voices such as yours to implement such change.

      Again, I am appreciative of your time and feedback

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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