The Web: Impotent

by Mitch Harding
written on 5/5/00

Yesterday I was in San Antonio with a group of friends. We came to town in order to go to Fiesta Texas, a theme park in the area. After we'd had enough of the amusement park, we visited San Antonio's famed Riverwalk to get some dinner. After a pleasant dinner we walked along the river, back to our parked cars. We turned a corner and I saw a couple of people talking.

The closer person was not facing me. It was a man with dark hair. He appeared to be fairly stocky. I didn't get a good look at him, because I was paying more attention to his companion. She was a woman in her late twenties. She had blonde hair. What struck me about her was her face. Specifically, two things made an impression. First, her expression. She looked angry, frustrated, but also resigned. I quickly got the feeling that they were, or had recently been, fighting.

The other feature that caught my notice was her left eye. She looked like she had a black eye. It wasn't obviously a black eye (maybe it had been partially disguised by makeup), but if I had to guess, I'd say it was.

My initial reaction was disgust and anger. It seemed likely to me that he was abusive. That always upsets me, just thinking about it. But further, it seemed that it made her angry, but not angry enough to leave him. And yes, I've heard of how helpless and scared people can be in such a situation. I've heard them ask how they can expect another guy to treat them better, when so many guys have treated them like this in the past. They get to thinking that maybe they deserve it. Or maybe they're just scared that he'll do something even worse if they try to leave. I don't know. I can only understand such psychology to a limited extent. Perhaps because I've had the luxury never to be in such a situation.

In any case, it fills me with a righteous anger. I'm furious at him for treating another human being this way, and I'm a little upset at her for remaining in the situation.

But then I wonder if maybe I am mistaken. It's not CERTAIN to be the way I imagine it. Maybe this isn't her boyfriend. Maybe she is abused, but this is a good guy. Or maybe she came across that bruise some other way, or maybe it isn't even a bruise. And what if I AM right? How do I deal with it? How do you approach someone to rescue them from such a situation? He isn't being abusive right now, so it's not like I can step in and stop him. I feel helpless and impotent, and it bothers me. It occurs to me that I do, at least, have some experience with feeling helpless.

Then they're gone, behind us. We keep going, and I keep thinking about them, but the situation is over.

It seems that this sort of thing comes to my mind periodically, and I'm never able to settle the issue in my mind. I've known a number of people who were abused by family members when they were young, or abused by their partners, and I never know how to deal with it. In most of the cases I only find out after the fact, and that still bothers me terribly. It bothers me that such things can happen in the world. It seems strange to say that, because anyone who reads the news or studies history knows that the world is full of just about any terrible thing you can imagine. We all accept this. But when I know someone who has personally experienced this sort of thing, my mind rebels. No, maybe not my mind. My heart rebels. It is these times when I experience the strongest anger that I have ever experienced. To know that something so WRONG exists, and to not be able to stop galls me.

Which then brings up the rarer cases, when I know or suspect abuse that is ongoing. What then? Some would say "You have to stop it. Call the police if necessary." But that has many problems. First, usually the victim does not want this. Second, the police usually need evidence, AND need someone to press charges. And these problems hold true for most any proposed solution. The victim keeps hoping to make it work, or is too scared to end it, or whatever. Should I find some way to observe the abuse, and then physically attack the guy? Setting aside the likelihood of my winning that fight, which probably wouldn't occur to me were I in the situation, there is still the question of how much good this would do. As like as not, the victim would not appreciate my efforts. And the abuser would probably take his anger out on the victim at a later time. Violence is the problem, not the solution.

I can't think of anything else to say without repeating myself. I still don't know how to deal with this sort of thing. Sometimes the world isn't a very good place.

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