Prosecutor column: Never turn a blind eye to abuse


On May 5, 2017, I will miss an event that I have only missed once in my entire time at the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office. It’s the 9th annual Walk-A-Mile-In-Her-Shoes.

This unique event highlights the seriousness of sexualized violence, and it does so in a way that all ages can come together and support the message. All are encouraged to walk a mile, but men (if they are physically able) wear high heels to literally Walk-A-Mile-In-Her-Shoes.

This year’s event will be May 5 in conjunction with the City of Delaware’s First Friday activities. Registration is at 6 pm. The walk starts at 7 pm. My son, who is also a long time participant, will be walking to represent our family.

I’ve written a number of articles and spoken to many groups about the devastation caused by domestic violence. The existence of domestic violence and sexualized violence alike has been hidden far too long. It’s time to talk about it, but it’s not exactly pleasant dinner conversation, and let’s face it, many people don’t want to get involved.

Historically as a society people have been quick to blame the victim, wondering why they don’t just leave or seek help themselves? Victims, on the other hand, often feel ashamed and afraid of judgment.

I’ve dealt with enough of these crimes to know each case is unique and complicated in its own way. If the answers were easy, there wouldn’t be so many lives shattered by domestic and sexualized violence.

Consider this: if you ask any person if it is acceptable to assault (verbally, emotionally or physically) a stranger, the answer is easy – of course not! Most likely if any of us saw that happening we’d try to help, but our response changes if the person being assaulted is a spouse, a partner, a son or daughter. We are hesitant to intervene.

So what keeps observers from intervening? The overwhelming response is fear – fear for their own physical safety, or fear that they’re wrong. What if it’s just a simple fight? What if the observer falsely accuses someone, thus embarrassing involved parties and wasting law enforcement resources?

What if calling the police makes the situation worse? Some people put the burden on the victim, believing it’s their duty to seek help. Or it might just be that they can’t believe something “like that” would happen in their neighborhood.

The reality is that something “like that” can happen anywhere. So what can we do? Most importantly, do not put yourself at risk. For example, if you suspect violence in a neighbor’s home, do not confront the offender.

However, keeping yourself safe does not mean keeping quiet. Contact law enforcement. Use your phone to audio and/or video record what you are seeing and hearing. If you don’t have a phone, write down the date and time and what you observed.

The old idea of hear, see, and say nothing might result in a person being seriously injured or killed, and I can think of almost nothing worse than realizing my inaction contributed to such tragedy.

If you remain concerned that you might have it wrong, you can still call law enforcement to report a noise disturbance, requesting a welfare check to make sure everything is OK. This doesn’t mean you are accusing anyone of anything, but in the event there is violence, it will mean action has been taken.

I guarantee a law enforcement officer would much rather respond to a call and find nothing than later find someone injured or deceased. And at the end of the day, you know what?

If law enforcement ever showed up to my house because someone had made a wrongful report (let’s imagine the TV was playing a show with a loud, violent scene), I might feel embarrassed (and I would probably ask them to reassure the caller that it was just the TV), but I far prefer that minor inconvenience than to live in a community where people turn a blind eye to abuse.

Events like Walk-A-Mile-In-Her-Shoes are part of a societal shift, an effort to bring the conversation to the forefront, to not sweep uncomfortable situations under the rug. It’s a way to show support to victims who may be looking for the courage to step forward. It’s a positive way to talk about healthy relationships with the younger population. Plus, it’s a fun, free, family-friendly community event and all are invited.

So, on Friday, May 5, join your neighbors and law enforcement in showing victims of violence that you care, and that you live in a neighborhood where we will not turn a blind eye to abuse of any kind.

Carol O’Brien

Guest Columnist

Carol O’Brien is Delaware County Prosecutor.

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