Yesterday I took public transportation downtown and had to change buses. As I was waiting for a bus, I heard a woman behind me chewing out one of her children. Then I heard a resounding slap.
This is not the safest neighborhood in the world–when I walk in the building where I work, two blocks from there, there are three security guards who are off-duty Chicago police. So I hesitated a nanosecond before I turned around and gave the group a long stare. When I was sure they had seen me, I turned back.
The mother immediately started a running commentary about me. Good heavens, was she on drugs that early in the morning? Was I in danger? I turned back, looked her in the eye, and said, “Do you know what a Mandated Reporter is?” There was a moment of silence. Quietly, “Look it up.” I turned back, hoping she wasn’t armed. More silence and then the running commentary resumed with someone behind my back. “…She can’t be a mandated reporter…she can’t work for DCFS…” (Department of Children and Family Services–they can take your children away.)
Close. She didn’t know what that was , but she knew what I was talking about. A mandated reporter is someone who is required by law to report any abuse they see. If they don’t, they can lose their job, and more. I only know of two people who have ever reported abuse. One situation resulted in counseling for the mother who had also been abused as a child. The other had such a negative result on the person who reported it she said she would never do it again.
Am I a mandated reporter? I don’t know. I have been before in other positions I’ve had, but I don’t know for sure about this one. What did I see? Nothing. Who did I see? I don’t know. Where was my cellphone? At home.
The mother’s running commentary now turned to the fact that I hadn’t seen anything. I kept my back to the group. One of the children complained that another child had him them. Don’t hit, said the mother. (YES!)
What else could I do? Tell the children about the 1-800 hotline? I don’t know if it’s even still in existence. I know the grant that funds my job and is at this very moment being slashed by the state legislature also funds the hotlines and shelters.
Now the mother was lecturing the child for continuing to sit down when the bus was coming. I looked up and there was a bus still a block away. There was more. The mother continued to harangue the child, mostly using the word “attitude”, but she hadn’t paid the fare for one of the children. After driving a few blocks the bus driver finally said, “If you don’t pay his fare, he’ll have to get off.” A guy in a crossing guard uniform paid the child’s fare. “Say thank you” demanded the mother. There was a muffled “thank you”. “No,” the mother demanded, “Go up there and say thank you.” Did the mother not think she was the one responsible for the child’s fare?
When the child turned around to go back to his seat I saw a face that was blank, devoid of all feeling, withdrawn. Then I remembered what someone who had been abused as a child had told me–the physical abuse hadn’t hurt as much as constantly being told they were worthless.
Then I looked down at the jacket I was wearing and remembered I had been wearing it one day when I had visited an American woman in Amman. Someone was trying to set us up as my roommate–Jordanians can’t imagine living alone. She was leaving her husband because he beat her, she had told me. On that day, the husband arrived when I was in the bathroom. As soon as he saw me, he left. After he left, she told me why she had asked me to come. She had told her husband I was from the embassy. Now she would have no further problem with being abused by him.
What a distressful, distasteful morning. What is going on that I keep getting pushed into this protector role?