Saturday, June 9, 2012

Petula Dvorak, Jerry Sandusky and me

I can imagine only standing by and watching - part of the conspiracy of silence. It is easy to think that I would have done the ‘right thing’ but it’s hard for me to know what I would have done.

The article in the New York Times about sexual abuse at the Horace Mann School reminded me of how easy it is to turn away from something that is unfolding right before your eyes. In a reminder that real victim of all kinds of crime is trust, the author has this quote:

“It’s counterintuitive, but sexual abuse emotionally binds the child closer to the person who has harmed him, setting him up for a life plagued by suspicion and confusion, because he will never be sure who he can really trust. And in my experience, this is by far the worst consequence of sexual abuse.”

What would I have done if I had witnessed something inappropriate as some had seen Jerry Sandusky do? Would I have thought - ‘Hey! That’s borderline sexual abuse. I have to stop this guy.’ Or would I have gone the route of Joe Paterno - report it and then assume that I had done my duty.

It was therefore difficult to read about this local crime and ask whether I might have done the right thing if I had been there. Here’s Petula Dvorak:

Geniuses working at the Apple store in Bethesda heard bone-chilling screams, grunts and thuds coming from the Lululemon Athletica shop next door to them one night last March. The manager even got another employee to walk over to the wall and listen for a while, just to assure her that, no, she wasn’t just hearing things.

In case you want to think they demurred, red-faced, after realizing what they’d heard was after-hours loveplay or iron-yoga poses, the Apple store manager testified that unnatural human sounds were accompanied by a woman saying: “God help me. Please help me,” and “Talk to me. Don’t do this.”

Still not sure something bizarre is going on?

The Apple store manager, Jana Svrzo, told police: “I heard someone say, ‘Stop, stop, stop.’ And then, ‘Oh God, stop.’ ”

Hmm. What to do when you hear something like this?

If it were the reasonable, civilized society we believe that we occupy, the store employees would call 911 and tell the dispatcher that, maybe they’re being silly, but they are hearing something unusual next door that police might want to check it out.

Instead what they did was nothing. Nothing at all.

The noises on the night of March 11 came from a horrific killing. Svrzo and her co-worker were listening to Jayna Murray, who worked at Lululemon, suffer 322 wounds. The sounds were hammer, knife, wrench, rope and metal bars making contact with a human being.

Or consider this item:

The kidnapping and death of Barbara J. “Bobbie” Bosworth from the Springfield Mall in 2008 was one of the most horrific crimes in this region in recent memory. An innocent woman walking to her car on a Saturday afternoon was abducted at gunpoint, driven to Prince William County, forced into a convenience store to buy beer for her teenage attackers, and then killed when they crashed her car into a tree.

Customers in the PDQ Mart in Woodbridge said they pleaded with the store manager to call 911, or let them use his phone to call 911, because Bosworth was clearly in trouble. But during the 14 minutes Bosworth and the two teens were there, the store manager refused. The lawyer for the PDQ Mart did not return a call seeking comment.

What about this? 

A man pulls at a woman’s arm, calling loudly for her to come with him. She says ‘No!’ just as loudly. He tells her to do as he says. They’re both in their 20s or perhaps early 30s. Does a stranger walking by intervene?

I kept on walking.

It’s time to be afraid of not doing the right thing. It’s time to also believe that doing the wrong thing for the right reason is okay. At a time when we are more disconnected than ever from one another it is another reason to be in touch - even for total strangers.

Unfortunately in a society that lacks trust any attempt to do the right thing is met with mistrust - mistrust of motives, or fear of retaliation and lawsuits. This is the kind of society that we live in. Economists and sociologists laud the fact that countries that have the oxymoronic sounding ‘trust-enforcing’ institutions grow faster. But this same institution can turn around and slap you with a lawsuit just as quickly even though you may doing something (wrong?) for the right reason.

What is trust? The lesson is from BSG:
Lt. Sharon 'Athena' Agathon: How do you know? I mean, how do you really know that you can trust me?
Admiral William Adama: I don't. That's what trust is.

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