The current kidnapping case of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight highlights the question "How do we not see what is happening next door?"
The thought of our enabling abuse, abduction, and other tragedies by our lack of awareness is shocking, to the point of our wanting to deny that possibility, or perhaps wanting to argue against it. Yet, that denial becomes a source of protection for perpetrators, who rely on that shield -- the veil through which we do not see.
As a child who struggled through sexual abuse by my father from the age of four, I saw directly that those who should be aware, are not; and those who should pay attention, do not. I am one of at least 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States who lost a childhood because of lack of awareness and attention.
In the United States, as many as one in three girls, and one in five boys are sexually abused before the age of eighteen. That means it is a high probability that each of us knows someone who is a victim. Sadly, we may not yet see.
Further, an estimated 2,000 children are reported missing every day. That is more than one child missing every minute of every day. Yet, we do not see.
As adults, in our busyness and living in a society that enables us to live independently of our neighbors, we easily become disconnected from each other. We lose our "senses" for each other, and often only come to "see" when our senses are shockingly awakened by horrific acts right before us. Only then do we ask, "How could we have not seen?"
So, how do we "see" before it is too late? How do we pay attention to the subtleties that can reveal secrets such as abuse and abduction?
I believe the solution lies in each of us getting back to the basics of community. Here are a few, simple, neighborly things we each can do every day, starting today:
- Know your neighbors and be aware of strangers. Commit to getting to know at least five neighbors in each direction of your home. It can start with a knock on the door, an introduction, a greeting note under the door, an offer of help. It can be a simple first step -- the way any relationship starts. That step can open a door, open people to each other and open the opportunity to be aware. Equally, be aware of strangers and make sure they see you watching.
- Observe subtleties in your neighborhood. Commit to noticing five things each day that you have not noticed before in your neighborhood. You will be surprised how long it will take for something "new" not to appear. It may be bars on windows that look out of place, overgrown lawns, new gardens, old gardens, new paint, old paint. The point of the exercise is to develop the habit of observation and awareness. In Boston, we saw how observation led to the capture of a suspected terrorist. In our communities, that awareness can save a life, every day.
- Pay attention to children in your street. Commit to knowing the children in the homes around you. Know how many children live in the homes in your street, know their ages, know their names, notice if they are alone, notice if they look happy or apprehensive. Ask a child if they are okay or if they need help. A simple question can give a child permission to share a secret.
The simplicity lies in each of us doing a small thing each day that can lead to dramatic change. Yes, it takes a few moments of our time and attention, amidst our busyness. We may ask, "Why should I take a moment for others when I am so busy with my own life?" To which Albert Einstein, I believe, offers the best answer, "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."