Think Fast: What to do if you think you see a child being abused - | WBTV Charlotte

Think Fast: What to do if you think you see a child being abused in public

(Corey Schmidt | WBTV) (Corey Schmidt | WBTV)
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

Several professionals and civilians from across the Charlotte area spoke to WBTV about a tough situation one may encounter.

WBTV asked what a person should do if they see an adult striking a child in a public setting and it appears to be more than just a spanking.

Several civilians told WBTV they would feel compelled to get involved.

“I’d have to go up and be like ok what’s happening right here, this is not okay. What’s going on?” said college student Kylie Frock.

Others said they may take a different approach to the situation.

“I would probably contact the police and, if it was really serious, then I would try to intervene," said Danny Twiddy.

Every person WBTV spoke to said they would try to do something in some capacity if they were to see a questionable situation involving a child getting hurt.

Many seemed to think there was a line that could be crossed between a simple spanking, and something more serious.

“The line would be them grabbing their arm or just being too aggressive,” said college student Metta Edwards.

Others agreed that there is a line, but they didn't think there was a clear-cut point where it was obvious a situation had gone too far.

“There’s a difference between a spanking and really hitting a child," said mother Karen Bellinger.

WBTV also asked several professionals from different backgrounds to weigh in on the situation.

All three of the professionals agreed that calling 9-1-1 is the best option when faced with a situation where a child may be in imminent danger.

Bob Simmons, Executive Director of the Council for Children's Rights, said members of the public should only get involved in such a situation to a certain extent.

"They should intervene only in a way that is intended to de-escalate," said Simmons.

He suggested offering to help a struggling parent in a public setting, rather than trying to physically stop an altercation.

“We all know that it is possible that there can be the extreme situation where an individual must act immediately, but I think those are very, very rare,” said Simmons.

He warned adults to be wary of any sort of physical discipline they may choose to use.

“A spanking is technically an assault. Now, will it be prosecuted as an assault? That’s a different question,” said Simmons.

Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloninger said that choosing to get involved in a physical altercation between a child and an adult is a personal decision that should not be taken lightly.

“To actually intervene in a situation, puts you in danger so you have to be very cautious,” said Cloninger.

He said that members of the public could choose to film a situation on a smartphone if they feel comfortable doing so. The sheriff said he doesn’t believe there is any legal obligation for a bystander to get involved in a potential domestic situation involving an adult and a child.

Melanie Lowrance, Children and Family Services Administrator with the Gaston County Department of Social Services, echoed a similar sentiment.

“We never advise anyone to get involved in a situation that they felt was unsafe,” explained Lowrance.

She said anyone who thinks they are witnessing public abuse of a child should contact 911 and the Department of Social Services.

Lowrance said that in North Carolina, physical discipline of a child is legal, but parents are given boundaries.

She said that any form of physical discipline leaving a mark or bruise for more than 24 hours is generally considered "inappropriate discipline" and the Department of Social Services will want to know about it.

“What we want the public to do is give us a call,” said Lowrance.

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