When You Witness Child Abuse In Public

Far to many times I have witnessed a child being abused in public:

  • A mother slapping her child across the face at Academy Sports
  • A mother slapping her child across the face at Magic Kingdom at Disney World
  • A man on the side of the road beating a little boy up against his car
  • A man verbally assaulting a little boy at Home Depot
  • My next door neighbor beating her toddler to a pulp in the backyard
  • A man verbally and physically assaulting a little boy behind a vending machine at an airport
  • And on and on…..

For years I never knew what to do. Do I intervene? Do I call the police? Ask a store manager for help? Do I do nothing?

In one of the cases above, I reported the abuse to the store manager. He did absolutely nothing. In another case, I called the police. The abuser was long gone before the police arrived. Three different people filed a police report against the man on the side of the road beating his child, and none of the police reports were even submitted! Therefore, the entire case went undocumented. Unfortunately, I learned that asking authorities for help was useless.

Then I saw a story on the news about a woman named Sarah. Sarah said, “One day I was verbally abusing my daughter at a grocery store and a stranger confronted me about my behavior towards my child. That was the wake-up call I needed to get help.” Because a total stranger had the guts to stand up to an abusive parent, Sarah has not only rehabilitated herself, but she has also mentored hundreds of other parents as well.

So I began testing this myself when I witnessed a child being abused in public. I began speaking up.

This Is What I Learned

  • If you confront someone in public who is abusing a child, you need to remember that the abuser is going to be very heated. It is critical that you stay calm
  • Make sure you are near other people or witnesses for your safety
  • In a very calm, non-confrontational voice, say clearly to the abuser “Ma’am/Sir, that is not the proper way to treat a child”
  • 99% of the time, their response will be “This is none of your business”
  • Very calmly respond “When a child is being abused in public, it is everyone’s business. Everyone’s.

I say this last line because I truly mean it. I truly feel that when an adult sees a powerless child being abused by an adult (including an older sibling, grandparent, coach, etc…) it is our duty to defend that child. Give abused children a voice who don’t have one.

I think of Sarah and her story. What if that women who confronted her that day thought to herself “Oh, this is none of my business” then Sarah and the hundreds of parents she has helped would still be abusing their children.

Consequences of Confronting a Friend

As I mentioned above, one of the abusers I reported was my next door neighbor. It was one of the worst child abuse situations I have ever witnessed. I called Child Protective Services on her. She knew it was me.

First, she went to Facebook and made snarly remarks about me on our neighborhood Facebook page. Later, she verbally assaulted me in my driveway. She said she was “parenting” her son, not abusing him. And she said I obviously had no respect for her since I didn’t talk to her husband about this.

  1. She is exactly right. I have absolutely zero respect for anyone who abuses a child – even if it is my next door neighbor or the cute bubbly mom on our school board. I will never give respect to an abuser.
  2. She was the one abusing her son, not her husband. What the heck does he have to do with this?
  3. Hitting is not parenting. I’ll say it again. Hitting is not parenting. Do the research. Children who are hit more than twice per month, experts (and research) has proven to be “excessive” and causes a long list of long term negative side effects.

If you confront or report a friend, be prepared that there will probably be backlash. How important is that friendship? Will your circle of friends stand by your side – or her side? Just be mentally prepared.

If you find yourself hitting your children when you get angry, try these helpful links:


when witness child abuse in public






Share your stories below. How often do you witness child abuse in public? Have you ever spoken up? How did it turn out?

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  • kreyve

    The problem here is it’s hard to know exactly the effect confronting this person will have on them. However, for the childs sake you have to take the risk. Here I’m not talking about the parent becoming abusive towards you, but rather having the parent’s newly found guilt turn into rage (possibly even towards the child).

    It’s a double edged sword at best, and I believe you made the right decision, hopefully it’s a wakeup call and not a catalyst for further abuse – but we will never know.

    The key thing is, you tried, and a lot of people would not have, on this I commend your efforts.

    February 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm Reply
  • Charlu

    I agree with you about standing up for the child, however all of the aggression and anger that the mother felt towards you all to often will be transferred to the child when they get home.

    I think if people could get tag numbers, names, plus a description of the abuse and call he Dept of Children and Family Services maybe they could go to the home seeing the extent of the abuse taking place.

    Unfortunately the abuse at home as you said is usually more violent than that done in public.

    I also think that if the incidence you witnessed was captured on video by the establishment you were in, it should be kept for possible evidence if it should come to that


    March 9, 2011 at 9:48 am Reply
  • Jenn

    I had this happen at a soccer game I was coaching. The other teams coach was yelling at his kid, he threatened to take his belt off and kept bullying him verbally. He grabbed the kid 3 times by the arm and the kid pulled away, yelling “get off me”. At each point the father would turn around and then spin back around in an aggressive manner, demanding his kid go to the car. The child refused to leave, so the dad roughly grabbed his upper arm and put him in a choke hold and started walking off. At that point, instinctively, I yelled that he needed to stop and that we would call the game off if he continued. He got nasty and yelled at me and then my husband got into it with him. They became aggressive with one another, but did not get into a physical fight. I feel really bad for saying anything, because the poor kid probably got it at home and now my husband isn’t allowed to coach in our county anymore. It’s hard to know what to do, but I hate seeing abuse, as a nurse I see what happens when the child gets to the ER.

    October 26, 2011 at 10:48 am Reply
    • kateraidt

      HI Jenn, Thank you to you and your husband for standing up for this little boy. I feel you did the right thing!

      October 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm Reply
  • annoumously

    I have repeatedly seen the neighbor lady next door to me, verbally and physically abuse her two pre teen children.. She is a single mom and She is really creepy. I can hear the girl screaming/crying in her room a lot…what do i do? Im so scared for these kids one boy and a girl. The kids share a room, so not sure if the older brother is abusing the girl as well? But he seems like a really good boy, but the mother is a real monster…

    November 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm Reply
    • kateraidt

      In a situation like this, I recommend calling Child Protective Services. They will make a visit to the home and see if the children are being harmed. If the situation doesn’t change, call CPS again or call 911. I knew a woman who was harming children and it took several people calling CPS SIXTEEN TIMES before anything was ever done. The more call the police or CPS receive on a person, the more active they are in taking action. And let’s all pray for this family!

      November 24, 2011 at 7:48 am Reply
  • anonymous

    Today I saw a woman lifting up and dragging her child across the floor of a department store by one arm. The child was African American, the woman was white. The girl could have been her adopted child, step child, a niece, a granddaughter…..who knows. To me, it just looked like a powerless girl, screaming and backing away from the woman trying to make her move forward. It was obvious that she did not want to go with that woman. I asked the child if she was ok. She stared at me afraid to answer. The woman yelled at me at the store and said that was none of my business and this was her child and she was just throwing a tantrum. I continued asking the child if she was ok and I ignored the woman. The child never answered. After she turned loud, I told her that this was no way to treat a child and it was completely inapropriate. She said the girl did not want to leave the playground and was throwing a tantrum. I had been at the playground a couple of minutes ago with my 4 yr old and I didn’t see her. I probably should have called security within the store immediately but she would have left unnoticed before they arrived. Additionally, I had my own daughter with me and my parents and I didn’t want to endanger them or put them in a dangerous situation because I didn’t know if the woman was armed, crazy, dangerous or all of the above. The woman was very loud and I think that helped others to notice. It probably embarrased her as well because I continued to tell her that was no way to treat a child and I told her I should call child services. People started noticing her, specially the ladies that work inside the store behind the cosmetics counter and I am sure they will remember who she was if they are asked. I did contact security at the the mall and told them if anybody reported a 6 yr old African American girl wearing a pink puffy jacket, to take a look at the security cameras within the store. I also tried to contact missing children but the lady that answered told me they couldn’t record “possible kidnappings”. I wish I could have done more for the little girl. I felt aweful just watching that woman take that girl with her. I keep thinking it could have been my 4 yr old and I would have wanted someone to help her out. Thanks for giving me a space to share these feelings. It makes me feel a bit better. Perhaps parents should teach their kids to yell “this is not my mom (or dad or relative)” when a situation like this arises, instead of screaming or crying. I am sure more people would come to their rescue. After I came home, that’s exactly what I taught my daughter: “if someone you don’t know grabs you, you start yelling: Help me, this is a stranger, I am being taken”.
    She was as shocked as my parents to see this happen. I just hope the little girl is ok.

    November 30, 2011 at 7:43 pm Reply
    • kateraidt

      You are awesome! I wish more people would speak up when a child is being hurt physically or emotionally. Good job!

      November 30, 2011 at 8:11 pm Reply
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    […] another parent hitting their child. I was confronted with this experience yesterday, and discovered I indeed had a voice in this very challenging ¬†and incredibly sad […]

    June 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm Reply
  • johncerna

    Hi Kate, I just today posted on my blog a story about how I witnessed child abuse and did nothing. It still haunts me to this very day. All best, JD

    July 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm Reply
  • Aroosa

    My mother told me other day that whilst she was walking on the street she saw a beggar woman hit her child’s face with a shoe to make him cry in order to get more sympathy when she asks for money!
    I was furious when I heard this and I don’t know whether I should just simply call the police or talk to her

    August 20, 2013 at 9:50 pm Reply
  • Linette

    I am currently in a situation where a mother of one of the girls on my daughter’s softball team is unbelievably verbally abusive to her daughter. Calling her names and degrading her. The child is only 8 years old. All of the other parents have noticed but no one says anything. I can’t hold it much longer, but I do not want a fight to ensue in front of the other children. What do I do?

    May 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm Reply
    • kateraidt

      Hi Linette. Thanks for sharing your story. I recommend CALMLY and KINDLY saying something to the woman like, “The way you speak to your daughter is unacceptable and very abusive. Please give your child a lot of love.”
      I have found (with all things in life) that sometime is just takes ONE person calling someone out on something that makes a difference.
      If this woman says “It’s none of your business”, you say “When a child is being verbally or emotionally hurt in public, IT’S EVERYBODY’S BUSINESS!”
      Good luck….and keep me posted!

      June 2, 2014 at 7:37 am Reply
  • carol batiste

    I raised two of my grandkids ages 3 and 6 years old their mom is very abusive toward them. she took them away from me and refuse for them to see or speak to us. today when I see the kids they refuse to talk to me or call me momo like they use to. from time to time they run to me crying they want to come home. I am trying to get them out and abusive situation but no one will help me not the governor or Louisiana nor ( dcfs ) department of children and family service. the kids look like they barely eat, they cried until they vomit to this day they still cry and put their head down when they see me. can anyone help me get my grandkids out of harms way before its too late. please contact me that’s my email address.

    August 30, 2015 at 2:33 pm Reply
  • Sarah

    So do you have kids? I’m curious, and what are all these “ways” to discipline without spankings. Rather than just calling them on it, maybe you can share some other ideas. i have been to breaking points where EVERY discipline was exhausted, he was tired and just pushing every button for FUN. So, when everything else has been done, what are these magical things you mention? I don’t disagree, I just feel it’s easier to judge when “your kids” are perfect, or you’ve never hit the same breaking point as other parents? Maybe you could make us a list. Then you can print it out and give it to these parents. Some may be abusive, some just exhausted and could use some tips.

    September 16, 2015 at 2:47 pm Reply
    • kateraidt

      Hi Sarah, Sorry to hear about your situation. Yes, I have two children. I am fully aware of how kids push our buttons and how parents can lose their cool. My family is no different than yours. After working in child development for 10 years, I have learned a LOT that helps eliminate behavior issues with all ages. It’s very simple, but takes effort on your part. The 3 biggest reasons kids misbehave is 1) They are sleep deprived 2) They don’t have a healthy diet 3) They are not getting enough nurturing from mom and dad. In many cases, the child is lacking all 3 of these things. The more you can be PROACTIVE parent and not a REACTIVE parent. Most parents wait and react after their child misbehaves. You need to do everything in your power to PREVENT the misbehavior in the first place. Make sure your son gets 10-11 hours of sleep (or more) every single night. No excuses. Keep junk food, sugary drinks and processed foods to a minimum. Pack healthy sack lunches. Make healthy dinners. No excuses. And give him lots of hugs, lots of time and attention and tell him every day that you are proud to be his mom. No excuses. About spanking: Not only does it not work (you might think it does in the short term), but it makes misbehavior even worse. The kids with the worst behavior are the ones who are hit. It’s no different than how you would feel if an adult hit you every time you did something they didn’t like. it would destroy your relationship with that person. Your child needs you to be a leader and a nurturer. So what do you do when your child acts up? You sit down with him and have a calm parent/child conversation with him. No excuses. It may be difficult in the beginning because your child may fear you and not trust you. But don’t give up. You need to re-build your relationship with your child from the ground up. I never spank my kids. But they definitely know who is boss, they respect the rules of our house and there are consequences when they aren’t respectful. Because my kids get a lot of sleep, a healthy diet and a lot of nurturing, the bad moments are very rare. You have to believe in preventitive measures and give your son a lot of love. Maybe hug him when you feel like hitting him. Start this immediately and don’t ever give up.

      September 16, 2015 at 3:42 pm Reply
  • Lauren Marie Germanow

    Yesterday, I walked past a very large man who was returning a DVD to a RedBox outside of a grocery store. There was a child a few feet away from him, probably only about 10 years old. He was saying to the man, “What did I do?” The man replied, “What do you mean?” The child asked, “Why did you hit me?” I happened to walk by right at this moment. I believe the man became embarassed when the child asked this in front of me, so after I passed by. I heard the child begin to cry, but he was really trying not to. The man said, “If you want me to hit you, I’ll hit you.” Then he said, “Stop causing a scene. Get the F*$% in the car.” He was very loud, so I heard everything. I was loading my groceries up. I feel bad because I don’t think he would have hit the child as hard if I hadn’t walked by at that moment and heard the exchange. I looked over after the child got in the car. I could see he was hunched over in the back seat. The man got in the car and sped away. I thought about following him and getting the license plate number, and then calling child services, but I was afraid if I did anything like that, he would probably take it out on the kid. So I prayed for him instead. I had a hard time falling asleep last night, thinking about it.

    September 6, 2016 at 11:48 am Reply
  • Anon

    You have inspired me so so much.! Thank you and I truly admire your bravery.x

    August 28, 2017 at 2:53 pm Reply
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