Speaker Won Pat’s Weekly Address: Violence in our Community

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Speaker Won Pat addresses the violence in the community from school fight videos to the animal abuse video in her weekly address.

Guam – The following is Speaker Judi Won Pat’s weekly address:

Buenas yan Håfa Adai! 

I cannot begin to tell you how distressing it was for me to hear the story of a Guam man arrested on charges of animal abuse.  I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the video making the rounds on social media.  Just hearing about that sort of brutality is heartbreaking.  I know many in our community felt the same.  But perhaps also just as disturbing, if not more, was another story of a street brawl that entangled an innocent child.  I watched in horror as that child stumbled about as bats and fists swung overhead.  As a mother, I instinctively wanted to reach in and pull him to safety.  As a legislator, I am outraged on so many levels. 

About this time last year, there was the video of a school fight at a local high school. I remember barely being able to watch as a boy grabbed a girl by the hair and slammed her head onto the concrete floor. In another similar rage-filled video, a girl continuously hit another girl in the head, and dragged her by the hair across the restroom floor.  All the videos were equally appalling. 

And as alarming as these incidents are, we are also faced with the added challenge that all these scenes of violence were observed and filmed without interference, and then posted to social media sites on a somewhat voyeuristic whim.  This poses a multitude of issues.  Our community is apparently not immune to the bystander effect.  Psychologists claim that the phenomenon refers to incidents in which individuals do not offer help to a victim when other people are present. More disturbing is the fact that the probability of help relates to the number of bystanders. That is, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.  Pairing this effect with social media creates new issues.

While it is rare for bystanders in groups to intervene in person, it seems easier to say unpleasant things online, from behind closed doors.  Nationwide, a number of people and organizations fed up with the prevalence of cyber bullying and trolling have called for governments and social media companies to find solutions. So who is responsible for halting online harassment or bullying?  Should those who witness and record violence without interfering be held accountable for injuries? Identifying a solution that discourages violence and harassment and yet preserves freedom of expression is not simple.  Moreover, social media has admittedly played a role in aiding our law enforcement agencies. 

Although Guam does have laws in place that address violence, child abuse, animal abuse, voyeurism, and cyber bullying, we don’t necessarily need to be regulated to better neighbors, sisters, brothers, and each other’s keepers.  Rather than pressing the record button, perhaps we can instead take a moment to call authorities.  We can all practice to be better role models to our children, to the youth who look to us for guidance, and to each other as good islanders.  Let us not be quicker to judge than to offer empathy and willingness to understand.  The Dalai Lama once said, “If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.”

Saina Ma’ase.