Since then, "What's my responsibility to act?" has become a sort of jokey mantra among friends. You know: "Hey, that woman shouldn't be seen in public with such a heinous haircut. What's my responsibility to act? Should I tell her?" That's a dumb example, but you get the idea.
The other day, though, I had a real-life "responsibility to act" moment, & I've been thinking about it ever since.
Some friends & I were sitting on a patch of grass in Harvard Square when a four little girls came running over to us. They ranged in ages from 4 to 10, I'd say, & the littler ones were full of chatter: "I like your feather earrings!" "Why do you have a tattoo?" "What's your names?" We talked to them for a little while, even letting them play with our iPhones: "You don't have any fun games!" one of them declared in disappointment. They were cute & entertaining & all the fun things kids that age are when they don't belong to you.
After a few minutes of talking to these kids, a man came over to collect them. "Are you their dad?" my friend asked, to be sure."No," he replied, deadpan. "I'm a molester."
OK, are you having the same reaction here as we did? Because... What. The. Heck. If that was a joke, it wasn't a funny one - & if it wasn't a joke, why the hell did we let those charming, beautiful little girls walk away with him? When one of the girls ran back to whisper something to my friend, I asked her who the man was, & she told me he was their uncle. "Do you want to go with him?" I asked, but I didn't know how to convey what I really wanted to ask: "Is he hurting you?"
The girls left with their uncle & met up with some other adults across the park, where they seemed happy & free from danger. But for a minute - a few minutes, actually - I was on the verge of marching up to that family, telling them what had just happened, & demanding that they A) be sure that uncle is not, in fact, a molester, & B) school him in the art of appropriate joke-making to be sure he never says that again.
I can't stop thinking of those little girls. Was that uncle a "funny uncle," after all, or just a sad man with an unforgivably unacceptable sense of humor? I'm never going to know, & I can't stop thinking about my responsibility to act. Should I have said something? What would you have done?