How to intervene when witnessing child abuse

All of us have a constitutional responsibility to report child abuse, whether it happens on the playground or at the hands of a parent in a public space.

This responsibility was brought home after we received a call from a woman who witnessed a public scene of child assault, in the midst of National Child Protection Week (31 May to 7 June 2015).

In response to the call, we spoke to Lalela Project's Cat Rieper and Head of Crimeline Yusuf Abramjee about how people can avoid being bystanders and intervene when confronted by a scene of assault.

It’s concerning for me to know that other child-care professionals are not calling the police straight away. It’s time for people to step up and stop turning a blind eye.

Cat Rieper, Lalela Project COO

Six things to be aware of when intervening in scenes of abuse:

1. Don’t put yourself at risk or compromise the victim further.
2. Immediately call the police, security or the nearest law enforcement, if you feel powerless.
3. Make sure to follow up or file a report to a child protection welfare organisation.
4. Gather other forms of evidence such a video footage or photographs.
5. Do not make a citizen's arrest unless you are prepared to make a statement and testify in court.
6. If you are in fear, you can submit an anonymous tip-off to Crimeline (32211) or Crimestop (08600 10111).

Listen to the full interviews from CapeTalk's Pippa Hudson Show:

Public responsibility:

René called in to CapeTalk to retrospectively report an incident of child assault that she had witnessed at the Vangate Mall in Athlone on Tuesday evening.

According to René, the father of the toddler lost his temper and started to shout, smack, punch and push the child, in the full view of an audience.

As a child and adolescent psychologist, she says that she felt guilty for not intervening immediately during the incident.

I think it was so shocking, that people were stunned into silence. And I’ve been struggling with the fact that I didn’t confront him.

René, caller

Our listeners respond:

Some listeners felt that, for someone who interacts regularly with traumatised children, René should have done something to intervene.

Denise in Kommetjie said that when child abuse happens in a public space, people have the responsibility to stop it. But Kefiloe in Brackenfell felt that the anger was misdirected, saying that saving the child from any future abuse should be the priority.

There are too many reports, and nobody intervenes. Do something. At least that child might have been spared.

Denise, caller

There has now been a window in which the child’s situation is completely unknown. It speaks to the spectator mentality that South Africans have got when something nasty happens.

Stewart, caller

Listen to the full conversation which started on CapeTalk's Breakfast with Kieno Kammies:

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