“I am tired of bullies. I am tired of the attempts made to bully me and I am tired of those who give support to bullies by supporting them and acting as if they know everything about everything without spending much time beyond looking at the anecdotes in their own very limited life spheres.” This sentence is a direct quote from the father of a young woman who finally gained the strength to report that someone abused his daughter, a teacher that worked at her school. At the time, I asked him who and what he meant by bullies. He said “My community leaders who are making my life a living hell. Not only have they made light of my daughters abuse and our pain but they threatened to ruin me if I filed an official complaint with the authorities.”
At first, I found it interesting that he used the word bully, I might have used a different word, but then I understood. The signs and symptoms of a bully are well known and include; a strong need to dominate, acting intimidating to those who oppose them and rewarding those who support them. A bully is convinced of his own philosophy and superiority even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A bully is hot tempered, quick to take credit when things go his way but blames others when they do not. A bully attacks others rather than seeks an accommodation, and monopolizes discussions while refusing to allow others to ask questions. A bully is often shallow and glib, is adept at manipulation, can often outmaneuver others verbally, and is often described as a sycophant and slippery. This man was bullied by some community leaders and threatened that if he reported his daughter’s abuse to the police they would close down his business. He did report. He also closed his business, moved to the next town and his daughter went into therapy. That was over 20 years ago. His business did well in the new location and his family life settled down.
More than twenty years ago his daughter, at the age of 12, had significant emotional and behavioral problems. She cut herself, had an eating disorder, and was anxious and depressed. With a great deal of individual and family therapy, she improved. I remembered her when I bumped into her Father at the post office just a few days ago. He recognized me before I recognized him. But, as soon as he began to speak I remembered. My first question was how she was, what she was doing, was she married and so forth? He told me that she was doing well, married, had a few children; she completed graduate school and was working in a health related profession. He also told me that his daughter “still has moments of terror but she learned how to work her way through them.”
He said that he would tell her that I asked about her and was appreciative that I remembered. I told him that I was much more appreciative of learning from his strength and determination. He was in many ways the role model for me. I started to tell him what he already knew, that by informing the police and allowing his daughter to testify that they had stopped a molester from finding more victims. I told him that he stood up to bullies and changed the approach of his community by acknowledging that abuse happens. I also told him that if not for him the school that his daughter went to may never have had a program for students on self-protection.
He was humble in his reaction saying that he did only what he thought was “necessary to protect his family.” I asked him if he would do it again. He answered “in a heartbeat.” I asked him if he would be willing to give a talk to community members about what should be done. He responded “never” and laughed. He went on “It was hard enough knowing that someone had abused my daughter but when leaders of my community wanted to hide it and I was forced by them to turn away from everything I felt a part of, it was devastating for us. I don’t think I can do that again. Of course I would if I had to protect my own family but I hope that never again happens.”
I told him I understood. We wished each other the best and parted ways. I thought that life runs in interesting ways. His family was devastated by the abuse and the community indifference, even anger, at his desire for justice. He did what he had to do. My job turned out to be to help with the repair. But my job also turned into one where I developed a deeper sensitivity and awareness regarding the problems of abuse, to go on and try in some small way to educate the community about the problem and better ways of handling it. I think it is important to point out that this man and his family is from a different religious background. Abuse happens everywhere. Reactions to abuse are similar everywhere, some are supportive and correct, some bad. Every community has its bullies who often miss the mark when dealing with molestation and abuse. Everyone needs an education to understand and react properly, even the bullies.