DEAR AMY: Several years ago a co-worker I was friendly with suggested we get together on a day off and barhop, shoot some pool and drink some beer. We met at a bar we both knew about and then left in his car. He said he needed to stop by his house for something and invited me in. While inside and with no warning he proceeded to backhand his wife across the mouth in front of his two small children. His daughter burst into tears and his son looked like he wanted to kill him. I was dumbfounded. As my mind raced through the options I couldn't decide what to do. I could have beat him to a pulp, spoken up, walked out of his house, etc. But the fact remained that he would again see his wife and kids without me or anyone else around -- and then what? I also would have to see this so-called man at work. I did nothing and acted like everything was fine the remainder of the day but then declined all further invitations to spend time with him. To this day I don't know what I should have done differently.
-- Conflicted in Iowa
DEAR CONFLICTED: The sheer mendacity of the man who would strike his wife in front of his kids and a visitor is an indication of how arrogant and dangerous he was. Obviously you were caught completely off guard and given all of the circumstances you mention, you were paralyzed.
Beating this man to a pulp in front of his family exposes everybody to an unacceptable level of trauma, but you could (and should) have reacted by yelling, "Hey! Stop it!" The reason to do this is so this man's wife and children could see another man standing up and expressing, "This is unacceptable. This is not how men should behave." Instead, what the children witnessed was the worst combination of human behavior: their father's brutality and another man's silent passivity.
At the first chance, you should have called the police and/or "hotlined" him by calling the local department of children's services and reporting the violence.