Dear Neighbor I May Not Have Heard One Day;
This is the happiest time of year, right? It is Christmas. It is the excitement of ending the old year, and the wonder of the year just starting. It is chock full of resolutions, dreams for the future, and a willingness to see more than what we have at the moment...no matter what that actually is. It is full of hope.
It is during this holiday season that we become willing to give to others. We allow ourselves, if only for a brief moment, to feel sympathy and guilt towards the plight of people we don't even know. We wonder over misplaced children in the care system; we ponder the needs of the homeless and hungry; we consider the disabled and mentally challenged; we may even reach for our pocketbook and send a helpful cheque, or purchase a charitable toy - believing we are doing "all we can". It is a wonderful thing to give to someone in need. It is satisfying to help without any expectation of compensation. This I can not question, minimize, nor fault. It is humanity at its finest.
I would like to ask one question, however. Is it REALLY, “all we can do”? There are eleven additional months in every year. These are months when we choose to ignore charitable giving. We stop feeling altruistic. We no longer consider the plight of other people. Somehow, we feel above those in need.
Does one season of giving every year, erase eleven months of oblivion? Do we recognize that we have been absent donors during those months? Do we know that we look away when we pass a homeless or trodden man on the street? Do we recognize that children in care need things every day, not just on holiday? Do we realize that the homeless woman with three children could benefit from a new pair of shoes, or slacks; allowing her to properly dress for an employment interview - in April? Do we condemn the runaway child who stole a package of bologna out of sheer hunger? Or, do we help?
Do we do as everyone else around us? Do we simply and easily dismiss the need? Do we assume the social support agency can and should deal with these issues? What prevents us from noticing our own inconsistency? Are we blind, or fearful? Are we so frightened of being taken advantage of today, that we have trained ourselves not to care; to look the other way when there is obvious need of assistance? How can we continue to live with ourselves comfortably - and with good conscience? Closing our front doors does not erase the ongoing need for help.
I begin this letter questioning humanity's inconsistent ability to give, because we have a much greater threat. We have a threat which has become an epidemic - globally. It’s ONLY chance of reverse is human involvement, human compassion, and a conscious willingness to dial a phone when needed - even if the reasons seem wrong, awkward, or questionable, in that moment.
That epidemic is abuse. Abuse which is unfathomable in this advanced day and age. We fight so much for people's right to be accepted and protected. We have sit-ins. We have parades. We educate ourselves regarding the acceptance of human diversity. We have struggled so fiercely to acknowledge and protect almost every group or enclave on this planet. Everyone shouts for their rights to be protected; publicly and privately. We buy in. We go home and believe we have protected everyone, and we have. We have noticed everyone - everyone except our own neighbor.
As this is the season we all think about giving to others, I would like to introduce you to the thought of the “silent voices” in your community or neighborhood which may go unheard this season. These "silent voices" are the children, women, and people, HUMAN BEINGS begging for rescue from the violence polluting their daily lives. They cry out to us regularly. Why can't we hear them? Why do we turn away and will ourselves to ignore them; not to get involved? It's wrong!
When we begin these discussions, I always hear incredible things, such as; “ what is the point", or "she will just go back to him”, or “it's not my place to get involved with what my neighbors are doing”, or “social support should handle that, it's not my job ”, etc. I hear so many useless and nonsensical reasons people use to give themselves permission for appalling inaction; many times leading to the death of an innocent being. I have even heard people say, “what did she do first? Maybe she deserves it”. Really???
My incredulation each time I hear one of these answers is tremendous. All I can do is shake my head and ask one simple question… “Would you want a stranger to help her, or to help him, if this was your child, your sister, your brother, or even your mother or father?” What is the true price of a simple telephone ring to emergency services? What does it REALLY cost you? A minute of your time? Is that expensive? What is the price for a lost life instead? What are we so very afraid of?
I have a news application on my cell phone like most people. This way, I can stay abreast of the news throughout each day. Four weeks ago, I began an experiment. I REALLY began paying attention to the contents of the worldwide news stories; beyond the political headlines. I have journaled the results because they were so unbelievably shocking, I believe I should share them in this letter essay. It cements the point I will conclude with. Please take consideration of the numbers. Each of these was a life, not a statistic. It was a human being robbed of the right to joy, love, a pain free existence, eventually the right to breathe and exist. This life was robbed because there wasn't one person brave enough to make one simple phone call. Is that acceptable to you?
In a one month period of time, 206 infants were murdered by one or both of their parents, across this globe. Most of these babies were under six months of age. Most of them also suffered unimaginable damage and pain, prior to their deaths. Forty-six of these deaths included some form of sexual abuse. 137 toddlers two years and younger, met the same unspeakable fate. 421 children above the age of 3 were killed by a family member during this time. Most of these children died by the hand of a birth parent. Many of these children suffered broken bones, lacerations, terrible wounds, and tremendous pain, before dying; all were tortured by today's standard of measured behavior.
Those numbers do not include the published news articles registering wives killed by husbands, husbands killed by wives, or the ongoing crisis of parents murdered by children. They also do not include the massive number of reported upon arrests made for child and spousal /partner abuse not resulting in death, or what is now deemed “typical domestic violence”. This does not mean the treatment was less viscous, just that it was caught before the victim perished in some cases. They can not account for the endless number of women, children- people, who suffered in silence, UNREPORTED AND UNNOTICED during this same period of time. It is simply heartbreaking to realize.
There is no way to measure or put these numbers into any interpretable range. According to The Coalition Against Domestic Violence only twenty five percent of cases are ever reported, globally. That is a powerful number! There are even you-tube videos teaching women how to cover their bruises and black eyes, the day after a beating. One of the most popular is published by Lauren Luke, titled, "How To Look Your Best The Morning After". What does it mean when we are simply training abuse victims how to hide the evidence of their assault? Wouldn't it be better if someone called for help BEFORE a woman needed to hide bruising?
We have a terrible, cruel, and unnecessary global crisis happening each and every day in the world around us. It is a crisis we can actually do something about though. It's not a flashy and hopeless war on drugs which we can never win. It's not a politicized terrorist threat. It's not a political issue we feel frustrated and helpless to change. This is something far more dangerous, but it is also far more important.
This epidemic is something we all believe will never come through our own front door. So, we turn away. We turn up the telly or radio rather than actually hear the trouble next door. We don't want involvement. We certainly never ring authorities. Why is that? What is it we are REALLY so afraid of? Where is this shame coming from? How do we feel when the coroner arrives at the same house a day or two later? A week later? Even a month later? Do we dare admit our guilt in that moment, even to ourselves?
As I began to track the news stories and number them, I read the tragedy of the reported details of each individual death. I wanted to understand why this was happening. What was it about these families; these children? I was searching for a link I wouldn't find. One obvious fact stood out to me however, in EVERY story, minus one exceptional case. One anonymous phone call to authorities, would have made a difference. One caring person getting involved; calling emergency services; could have saved every one of these lives; right to the last breath each person took. These children, these human beings, honestly didn't have to die. I was devestated in that knowledge.
In one particular case, neighbors heard a pair of babies "screaming" for eleven days after being abandoned by their mother. By the time they were discovered, one had perished, and the other was on the edge of death. The mother stated that she had left the children locked in her apartment for eleven days without food or a way to reach water, because she needed to spend time with her new boyfriend. She excused her actions simply and easily by saying, she just didn't know babies could die.
In this case there was one neighbor who attempted to reach authorities early on, but as no other neighbors complained, it was not taken seriously. In the end, the police did not check the welfare of these children. No one checked on the welfare of the twins. They screamed until they simply couldn't anymore. When they were found, the front door of the apartment was damaged at the bottom from the children attempting to scratch and dig their way out. The little girl was left with the body of her deceased brother for three days.
This is just one example in so many heartbreaking instances of human depravity when it comes to familial and intimate relationships. What would it REALLY have taken to save these children from this tragedy? A few insistent phone calls from neighbors? Would they have been saved by just one other person calling authorities when their screams became unusual? Why didn't this happen? Can it happen for every “at risk” child beyond this? I think it can. What will it take however?
As human beings, we have learned how to connect to one another electronically. We travel the globe multiple times an hour, and we never leave our own comfortable chairs. Time and distance are no longer barriers preventing open community or social progress. We can talk to anyone who chooses to talk back. What an amazing accomplishment!
Are we using this technology to better our lives? Are we wasting the most useful tool in the toolbox? Let's simply stop doing that! We CAN capitalize on this amazing phenomenon. We CAN finally use it in a way that makes a significant difference - socially. Social media CAN become a gateway to positive social change - if we allow it.
I believe, the internet CAN be utilized to create a new understanding between all people, in every nation. It can become a promise of protection; a contract, if you will. We can ALL agree to listen for the “silent voices” around us. Voices we know, can never be heard without our help. We can agree to pay attention to situations that simply feel wrong. We can agree to ring authorities if we hear our neighbors cry out due to violence. We can agree that NO child dies simply because we didn't take the time to dial 999 or 911 or whatever the emergency number is in your country.
I propose that this New Year, (January 1,2017), we each get involved by making that promise and showing it.
For every person who agrees to become involved and make the call for the next “silent voice” who can't, I propose we wear a simple red heart upon our clothing. Make it from cloth. Make it from paper. Make it from whatever you wish. It doesn't matter what it is made from. Just make it with your own hands. Your time making it is far more time than a simple phone call requires. Your time will symbolize that you WILL take the time to make a call when it is needed. This is YOUR WORD. This is your outward promise of the following statement:
"I will never ignore another “Silent Voice”
I will CHOOSE involvement over allowing one more helpless child/woman/ or human being to die by violence.
I will get involved by ringing authorities when I am suspicious of any situation being dangerous, neglectful, or violent; even if I am wrong.
My son and I are so proud to make this promise! We will be wearing our big red hearts on New Years Day. So will the nurses and wonderful people around us. Please, make this promise… but make it because you honestly mean it. Don't make it because you simply want to be part of the new “thing”. Make this promise because you understand with every person who dies from abuse, fifty more will follow - the chain will only grow larger and harder to break. Please, let's protect the most vulnerable among us. Choose to wear your heart because you choose a better world for every voice.
Thank you, my dear neighbour for forgiving me if I have ever missed a cry for help. Thank you also for wearing your heart, in pride, with us!
Sandra Hatler (O’Ruddle)
Andrew’s very proud mom