Child Abuse in a Local Supermarket – Children Are Human Beings

Child Abuse in a Local Supermarket
Children Are Human Beings

I’m continuing my article series on awareness for mental health and child abuse, where I take a story or an example of child abuse, and talk about why this is harmful to the child and what effects it may have in the future. (My previous article When We Get Hurt for Being Hurt – How We Learn Not to Feel can be found here; and my answers for Caring Witness about intervening, in a form of an article Being A Witness Of Child Abuse, can be found here.)

Today I’d like to share with you another personal story about child abuse in public I’ve witnessed some time ago. I was reading parts of my journal and found this entry from last year. I think I’ve shared this somewhere on Facebook back then too, so I apologize if you have already read this. But hopefully this will be interesting for most of my readers.

[Originally written on January 19, 2012; slightly edited]

I was in a local supermarket, and not that far from me there was a woman with a boy. She was aggressively telling her child to walk along, but he refused and started to cry. Then she pushed him so hard that he fell down and slid a couple of feet forwards. Afterwards she grabbed his hand, dragged him up by it, and yelled at him. I rushed towards them and asked her, “Missis, what are you doing?” She said that it's none of my business. I said, “He’s your child, he’s a small child.She said that he’s not obeying her and that it’s none of my business, and she walked past me. I walked behind her and said that she’s three times his size; that he’s crying; that I don't want to call the police because of this; and asked her how would she feel if someone did that to her. (Basically, at that point I tried so say anything that would make her stop actively abusing her child.) She dismissed me again, but at least at that point she let go of the child; he just stood there sad, hurt, and scared. I got on one knee – so that I would be on his level – and asked him if he’s hurt. But he was too scared or too dissociated to talk to me. (Probably because I’m a stranger, and his mother just abused him, and she’s right there, and hes dependent on her.) As I asked him, his mother quickly said that of course he’s not hurt – he knows how to fall even harder, and that I should go away if I don't want her to accuse me of stalking. I said that it would be useful for her to rethink if that’s really the way she wants to raise her child. At that point I didn’t know what else to say, so I walked away.

I knew that it probably won‘t be of much use, but I still decided to try this. I went to the security guard and told him about the situation. He walked to the woman, talked with her a little bit, and came back to me. With a smile on his face he told me that she looks very angry ant that she’s probably a drug addict, and that I can call police if I want. I said that she will be gone by the time police arrives. (Although I strongly doubt the police would even bother to come for that; and even if they do, most likely they won’t do anything really useful anyway. Even according to the law – of which I’m not a fan – child abuse is legal in Lithuania.) The guard said that there’s nothing he can do, and that his job is to ensure that there are no fights. To that I replied, “So, you protect adults, but you don't protect small children?” He had no good answer to that and repeated that there’s nothing he can do, and that I can call the police if I want...

Oh, and, of course, all this time nobody else did or said anything, just stood there uncomfortably looking at the other side and/or awkwardly smiling...

I just hope that one day the child will remember that someone acknowledged his hurt and injustice.

Now, this kind of physical abuse is pretty easy to understand, so I won’t be talking about obvious potential harm like physical harm (bruises, broken limbs and so on). But what’s also extremely harmful – even more harmful – is emotional and psychological abuse.

With her actions this mother is stating that her child is her property, and that she’ll use brute force without considering her boy’s physical and mental health just to make him obey her. And remember, it’s not one isolated incident (“he knows how to fall even harder”). His body is her property. He must do whatever she wants, and if he doesn’t, he will suffer severe harm. His preferences don’t matter. His emotions don’t matter. He’s scared, hurt, devalued, and the person that is responsible for his survival and well-being is harming him severely. Again. And in public, therefore also publicly humiliating him. And people around him don’t recognize it, or just don’t care (in this specific example, everyone except me). And since for the child his environment is his whole world, psychologically this means for him that the world in general is a scary, dangerous, and cold place to live in.

This kind of abuse pretty much guarantees that this boy will grow up with severe PTSD. And all this fear, hurt, and repressed anger that stems from his early abusive environment may show up in forms of following symptoms:

Shattered self-worth. I don’t own myself; my needs, emotions, and preferences don’t matter.

Fear of intimacy / counter-dependency. My primary caregivers – people who theoretically are closest to me – severely and constantly hurt me, so it’s not safe to be close to someone.

Perfectionism / fear of making mistakes / overthinking / obsessive-compulsive behavior. If I do something wrong, then severe pain occurs.

People-pleasing. If I don’t act how others want me to act, then I’m not accepted – that in one’s childhood meant rejection, abandonment, and, fundamentally, death.

And various other interpersonal, physical, emotional, and psychological problems, like aggressive behavior; self-destructive behavior; chronic depression; chronic loneliness; social phobia; lack of self-care skills.

Children are not property. They are people, like you and me. It's even bizarre to me that today, in the 21st century – in times where we have such wonders as the internet, biorobotics, and spaceflight – these statements have to be stated explicitly... Today more people are vocal about animal rights and environmentalism than about child abuse and its concequences. (Hint: if you’re more concerned about separating plastic bags from empty soda cans than about how to properly raise children, then your priorities are not that in tact...)

Children are human beings. Every adult was a child once. Children are human beings with their own strong needs, emotions, and preferences. In many aspects they are even more human than adults are, because in their truest, unbroken form they are honest, rational, extremely smart, curious, kind, and empathetic.

And until we recognize that, we’ll have adults abusing children, and security guards whose job is to protect all people but the ones that need protection the most – small, defenseless, and completely dependent children people.

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  1. Darius, Thank you for this post. I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. So often parents are witnessed harassing, abusing or neglecting their children. I am guilty of walking by and saying nothing. Although I am acutely aware of the devastating results of abuse. I just think don't have children if you are not prepared to put in the hard work and make the sacrifices that parenting entails. Having children is not a right, it's a privilege. It's an honour to raise them. I wonder why we feel we can't intervene when we observe such disgraceful and appalling parental behaviour. I think as a society we do have skewed perceptions on child vs parent rights, as though a child is a possession of the parent and so it's not our place to defend the child. Some people should never have children!!

  2. It's great that you intervened in such a horrible situation Darius. It's sickening the way people push their kids around, and the police should view it the same as if an adult had assaulted another adult. The woman's words "of course he's not hurt" are very telling and disturbing, the way she writes off his emotions and physical health is likely to lead to self-alienation, where he may learn to ignore and write himself off as well. The effects are devastating and should be taken seriously.

  3. So touching and so true. Thank you.

  4. I had almost the same experience this morning in a busy local supermarket.. I offered to help the mother whose shouting could be heard from a great distance within the store. She was threatening to leave her three-year-old alone in the store, along with much other verbal abuse. The poor child was just too tired to follow her but she took my hand to be reunited with her mother. I quietly told the mother that this was child abuse and that one day someone would report it. (I'd have done it then if I'd had the Child Protection phone number with me). Supermarket staff seemed oblivious but some customers smiled their encouragement although none actively supported me. After bellowing loudly that she was not a child abuser the mother picked up the child and left the store. The child's name was Imogen and this incident occurred at an IGA in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia. The child's [silent] grandmother was somewhere in the store.

  5. Hi, Anonymous! Thank you for sharing your story -- it sounds horrible and stressful... We can hope that this child will remember that someone noticed them when their mother abused her. Sometimes even one caring witness can make a big difference.

  6. As a frustrated mother and as a child that didn't always do what she's told, Ive been on both sides. It hurts on both sides. Best prevention as an adult is to eat good before going somewhere with a small child, take food and water, make sure your bladder is empty. Be ready that A 500 m trip can take an hour or more. Better yet- use some means of transportation for the child.

  7. I was in a grocery store yesterday and a similar situation except not physical abuse. This older women was in a wheelchair. She had 3 children with her. A boy around 10 or 11 two girls one 9 and 5 or so. The kids were just out of school full of energy and happy. They were chasing each other up and down the aisle. I was with my husband. The women started yelling at them loudly and never stopped abusing the boy the entire time. No physically but loud demeaning outburst. He was sobbing so had. He looked like a horrified child, embarrassed and fear in his face. People left the aisle. One couple were shaking there heads. I walked towards her, still yelling. I said Mam, she stopped yelling at him at him and what. I told her she had said enough. She started yelling at me. My husband took my arm and we left.. I left with a sadness and helplessness feeling. I WILL PRAY FOR HIM AND THIS LADY.


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