See Something, Say Something

We’ve all heard it a thousand times.  There’s a good chance, especially if you live in America, you’ve said it too.  It’s what I teach my Girl Scouts, and it’s what I try to live by.  After all to be a strong, courageous, social justice minded young woman you really should intervene when something is happening.

We tell kids to do it with bullies.
We tell travelers to do it with terrorists.
We tell men and women to do with domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the public demeaning of minority groups.

It seems simple.  See something, say something.

Be the voice for the voiceless, the protector of the weak, the supporter of all people in civil liberties and life.  Simple.

But is it?

Just after the Ray Rice video came out, a friend of mine hit herself in the face with a car door hard enough she needed stitches (hey, we can’t all be graceful beauties).  This friends loving husband left his work to take her to the hospital, and help her through the day.  He was seen as an abuser by the public- a point which was brilliantly illustrated when a stranger came to her in a public place and asked if she needed help at home.

In light of the #BringOurGirlsBack story, a father takes photos of his daughters while on vacation.  A white father with two lovely Chinese born daughters is seen as a exploitative pedophile when the girls are questioned by a self-identified Homeland Security employee about the possibly of them being illegally held.  (See Washington Post’s article here)

And I, with a medical condition causing easy bruising, had a substitute teacher alert Child Protective Services to bruising caused by and fall while hiking and my 18 month old niece and her swinging hiking boots after a family camping trip.  I’ve encountered it many times, in fact.  A bruise here or there brings raised eyebrows, “do you need help,” “is someone beating you,” even “your husband shouldn’t hit you” from teachers, coworkers, strangers.

See something, say something.  It’s a simple idea.  But what else does it say?  Does it say that a strangers influence might be stronger than that of my friends, family and acquaintances?  Does it say I might be “the kind of woman” who can’t protect myself, or the men in my life are “the kind of men” who endanger women?  Does it say we project helpless, broken, or an uncaring towards our own existence?  And that the people we surround ourselves with have even less regard for our well being?  Or does it simply say this person is a do-gooder, trying to make the world better, to make lives better?

Obviously there is a not-so-fine line between watching abuse happen and seeing the evidence afterwards.  I’m not questioning intervention when someone is being attacked in front of you- by all means step in, but what about when it’s not as obvious as a punch or slur being thrown?  Maybe it’s about how we approach the situation.  How we speak to the perceived perpetrator, and the supposed victims.  Maybe it’s about how far we let things go before we question evidence.  Maybe it’s just about our gut that day.

I don’t have the answer- but I’m beginning to wonder if See Something Say Something is really so simply after all.

What do you think, readers?  Where is the line- when do you speak up, and when do you let things go?  And how do you feel when it’s done?

XOXOX Sarah Mae

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