One of my favourite songs of all time is 10,000 Maniacs’ “What’s the matter here?”
The song tells the story of a woman who witnesses the domestic abuse of a child who lives on her street and the woman cries “What’s the matter here?”
It is a deeply painful song.
Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father,
the kid half naked and said to myself “O, what’s the matter here?”
As the story weaves along, day after day, there are screams, cussing and threats, including a leather belt, the woman muses “What’s the matter here?”
The song ends with these sobering words:
And I want to say “What’s the Matter here?”
But I don’t dare say.
I DON’T DARE SAY!
I don’t dare say that a vulnerable child is being threatened, beaten and screamed at, running naked from his home….and I DON’T DARE SAY!
Why not? Why not say something? Anything? Why not speak out, get help, give the child a voice?
In the song, the reason the neighbours give is simple. He’s not your kid. He does not belong to you. He’s not your responsibility.
There are, of course, all sorts of other reasons we don’t dare say:
“Don’t dare say, you’ll just get hurt yourself” (self protection).
“Don’t dare say because anyone with the authority to change things (police, social workers, judges, probation officers) won’t believe you, the parents will put on an act, the system will fail. It’s pointless getting involved.” (defeatism and powerlessness).
“Don’t dare say, the kid will survive. It’s pretty bad but not that bad.” (minimising the horror of abuse and it’s long term effects).
“Don’t dare say, it’s better the family stays together (relativising).
None of these is good reasons to dare say nothing. Abuse is wrong. It needs to be stopped. Better the dad suffers for the wrong being done, day after day, than the vulnerable child suffers. Justice and peace come first.
Rachael Denhollander uses a quote in her book about the abuse she suffered, the years of pain, the struggle for justice and her determination TO DARE SAY “What is a girl worth?”
It takes a village to raise a child.
It takes a village to enable an abuser.
The tension in “What’s the matter here?” is exactly that dreadful dynamic. The neighbours, the village, witness the abuse but do not own the problem and the kid is abandoned to pain.
I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses, he’s their kid I stay out of it… he’s your kid do as you see fit…Oh these cold and lowly things that you do I suppose you do because he belongs to you…
This idea, that someone is the possession of another, or under the authority of someone else, excuses us, in our own minds, that it’s not our place to get involved.
But the truth is, that child is an image bearer of the living God. The child belongs to God before he belongs to his dad. God hates the abuse of his precious, dearly loved, image bearers. God is justly indignant with abusers and will, on the last day, exercise perfect justice. As image bearers of God ourselves, abuse should horrify us and move us to seek justice for the child.
It is not only kids who need justice. Replace the father’s kids with anyone under another’s authority or possession; the doctor’s patient, the coach’s athlete, the trainer’s gymnast, the boss’s secretary, the teacher’s pupil, the policeman’s charge, the pastor’s church member, the pimp’s prostitute. The list goes on. And abuse can work in the opposite direction. The teenager to the parent is classic, but other relationships can reverse the power dynamic.
When power is being exerted to extort, wound, hurt, control, manipulate or damage and we find ourselves asking “What’s the matter here? But another voice in our head says “I DON’T DARE SAY.” It is then that we know it is time to ask questions, together, as a village.
It takes a village to enable an abuser.
It takes a village to protect the vulnerable against abuse.
What lessons need to be learned together when we ask “What’s the matter here?”