We'd all like to think that we would do the right thing in situations like this. Research from Australia (which is likely a good proxy for the US) trying to understand how people might react when presented with different abuse situations doesn't give us any reason to feel great about ourselves.
Given the hypothetical scenario of a twelve year old child, who is a member of your extended family, telling you that an adult relative has been touching them on their genitals only 34% of respondents would definitely call the police. Focusing on "definitely" responses only, 76% would discuss it with a friend or partner, 49% would contact the families/child protection department, and 42% would talk to the parents (assuming one of them isn't the hypothetical abuser).
Women were more likely to respond definitely to most or all responses and the more contact respondents had with children at work, the more likely they were to say that they definitely would contact the families and/or child protection department, and the less likely they would discuss it with their partner or a friend. The younger the respondent, the more likely they would definitely call the police - 45 years and above 28%; 35 to 44 years 35%; and under 35 years 39%.
Let's recap - when a child reaches out for help after being sexually abused 66% of people would *not* call the police, 51% *wouldn't* call families/child protective services, and 58% *wouldn't* talk to the parents. Note that using hypotheticals means you get an idealized response so it's likely that many definite action measures to protect the child are actually lower in real-world cases.
When looking at the factors that *definitely* stop people taking action when they suspect child abuse or neglect, 49% are worried they may be wrong, 44% are worried what would happen to them if they talked about it, 42% don't think it's their business, 38% don't know what to do, 33% don't want to cause problems for the child, 30% don't want to upset the parents, and 22% don't want to admit things like sexual abuse happen.
If you combine "definitely stops them taking action" and "possibly stops them taking action" the factors driving inaction start at 98% and go no lower than 89%.
I'm surprised that no one can imagine what it might have been like for McQueary to see what he did, to imagine him going into shock and reacting with fight or flight in that moment. It's not hard to imagine him calling people afterwards to try and process what he'd seen, not believing it, not wanting to believe it, and then once the shock had passed reporting it in the power structure he lived inside trusting them to know what to do. Less than ideal, certainly, but in light of the data in this study it's clearly more than many other people might have done.
It's easy to read horror stories like these and fall into a black and white certainty that we would each have done "the right thing" but the human reality is much more nuanced.
What isn't nuanced is how pervasive child abuse is - 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by the time they are 18. In fact, it's pretty much a statistical certainty that someone you know is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. It's an epidemic and there is a wall of fear, shame, and silence around the sexual abuse of children that must be broken for children to be safe in our homes and communities.
Our primary focus needs to be getting these now adult survivors of child sexual abuse the resources they need to heal. Awareness, prevention, and counseling programs and resources for children and survivors were few and far between even before the financial crisis.
As good as a cathartic purge of our collective anger and disgust at McQueary might make us feel, it only serves to give us a completely unfounded sense that we would have done better in his place. That energy would be better spent driving the outcomes that directly help protect children and heal survivors, now and in the future.
The data come from the '“Help Break Down the Wall” Community Attitudes Survey' from June 2010 which can be found here: http://www.preventingchildabuse.com.au/p…