Everyone has problems. And when they do, many people seek out someone to talk to; someone who they can unburden themselves. The person who is asked to listen might be you. Should that happen, here is one way to handle it and protect yourself from being sued or arrested. That got your attention, didn’t it? Who me? Arrested for just listening. Yes.
These conversations will likely open something like this, “I’ve got a problem that I want to talk to you about, but you’ve got to promise that you won’t tell anyone. Won’t say anything.”
This is a danger signal. And a dangerous one. Don’t ever agree to it. What should you to do? Respond by saying, “Okay, I’ll listen and help if I can, but you must understand that if this involves danger to your person, sexual harassment, or illegal activity I will not remain silent. If you are in fear for your personal safety I will make it known to whatever authorities I think can best protect you. I will not remain silent in the face of illegal activity.”
You repeated yourself there at the end. Good for you. What you did was make your stance very clear. Now, there is no doubt as to where you stand and what action you will take if the situation warrants it.
You’ve told this person that you care, will listen, and help if you can, but you will take action if you are informed of illegal activity – or a physical threat. You have protected yourself because to be made aware of illegal activity – of a crime – and say nothing may very well be a crime.
Worse, your silence protects the criminal, not the victim. Do not confuse protecting the victim’s identity from public knowledge with protecting the victim from being preyed upon. Don’t worry about what your family will say, what the people at work will say, or what anyone will say.
And you need to take steps to protect the victim. And yourself.
Consider what can happen to you should you conceal knowledge of a crime. Make no mistake, saying nothing means that you are concealing that knowledge.
This makes you complicate in the commission of the crime. You are now a part of the crime because your silence aids and abets the criminal; and further victimizes the victim.
Let’s say that you are told by the person involved that he or she is being sexually harassed. She, or he, thanks you for listening and for promising not to say anything.
So far so good, right?
Wrong. You are so very wrong. Keep reading for your nightmare scenario.
In a couple weeks who knocks on your door? The local police. That’s who. Why are the police visiting? Well your lady friend, or man friend, made a formal complaint and you’re named in it because you knew the harassment was going on and said nothing. The police want to why you kept silent. Why you did not tell them that a crime was being committed. Further, they want to know if you are involved in any way.
Now, you are being specifically asked, or should we say questioned? “Were you aware that so-and-so was being sexually harassed? Did you take any part in this? Why did you protect the criminal?”
And, “Are you aware that to conceal knowledge of a crime is illegal?”
You say, “I was asked not to say anything. I promised not to say anything.”
You go on and relate the conversation where you agreed to remain silent, and were informed that a crime was being committed. And in the process – admit your guilt.
What do you do now? Get a lawyer. When you do, bring your check book because they don’t work for free. This is the cost of silence. You will pay in dollars, reputation, maybe lose your job, may go to court, maybe jail. Not pretty is it?
These situations are serious; treat them as such. Always seek and to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Doing so protects them and protects you. Your silence is not golden, it’s cowardice.