I’m feeling very unhappy about something that happened yesterday. Picture the scene, local shopping centre in South London, bottom of an escalator in a shop. I hear a young child screaming, and the mother screaming even louder. I look to see what’s happening. A little girl, aged 3 maybe, standing at the bottom of an upward escalator. Her mother was at the top screaming for her to get on it. The little girl was terrified, couldn’t get on alone. I quickly walked over to try to take her hand, worried that she might have an accident. At the same time the screaming mother runs down the upward escalator, picks the little girl up and hits her very hard repeatedly, whilst telling her what a stupid f****** child she was. The mother dragged the child up the escalator, and I appealed for her not to hurt the little girl any more. The mother turned on me and threatened me, telling me to mind my own business and get on with my own life… I thought she was going to hit me. I was in shock for a moment, just didn’t know what to do. By this time they’re out of sight, but I could hear the shouting continuing upstairs, but I couldn’t see. Maybe somebody else intervened, but chances are they didn’t. I walked back into the shop and found myself in tears, not because of what the mother said to me, but because of the plight of the little girl. Another woman who witnessed it, came up to me and we talked, but neither of us knew what to do. By the time we’d recovered our equilibrium, the scene had ended. The shop continued to serve people, as though nothing had happened. The mother and child had gone.
I know terrible things happen to children everyday, but when confronted by such a situation, it’s truly shocking. If I’d called the police, what would they have been able to do, the mother had gone. I spent the rest of the day going over the scene in my mind. What should I have done? I found myself staring at parents with their little ones, scrutinising their behaviour, checking that others were being treated well. So what hope for that little girl? A man in the shop remarked that if that’s what the mother does in public, imagine what goes on behind closed doors. I felt so sad, so helpless. That tiny girl won’t be having a nice bubble bath tonight, with a long cuddle and a story before bedtime. So what would you have done?