Fort McCoy News March 24, 2017

Bystander intervention:

Taking time to look out for Mom

BY JEFF WINKLER
Plans, Analysis and Integration Office

After attending the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Green Dot training, I realized I should share my bystander story with the Fort McCoy community, especially those who are geographically separated from their Families and loved ones.

My father-in-law (Dad) became ill and required care and assistance, which opened the door for devious, predatory behavior by a Family member. During this time of need, this Family member (whom we'll call Jane) moved in with my mother-in-law (Mom) and Dad.

It seemed like an OK situation as they needed assistance around the house, and Jane's Family benefitted by not having to pay rent for a while, allowing them to get back on their feet financially.

Don't be a passive bystander.

Looking back on the situation, we now know Jane immediately began intimidating Mom while slowly driving wedges between Mom and her other children. Some of Jane's actions were quickly noticed by the Family, but no one tried to intervene. The other children didn't want to believe Jane had evil intentions, and they thought their parents would let them know if something was wrong. First intervention opportunity missed.

Then Dad passed away. Jane used the rising tension of this stressful time to her advantage, and she increased her efforts to isolate Mom from the rest of the Family. She made the house a mess and created an unwelcoming atmosphere so no one wanted to visit Mom anymore.

Again, the other children did not step up to intervene because they convinced themselves Mom needed or wanted the assistance from Jane. Second intervention opportunity missed.

Now that Mom was isolated from Family and friends, Jane was able to really ratchet up the pressure on Mom. Jane demanded more and more physical and financial control of Mom's life. She told Mom, "This is what Dad wanted; he told me so."

At this point, Mom would no longer have long phone conversations with any of the other siblings. She would not talk about how things were going at the house. Mom would assure everyone that she was doing what she wanted.

However, we began to realize her actions did not match how she had always handled her personal affairs in the past. She even debated whether or not to go to church anymore.

We tried to intervene because we were becoming very concerned something was wrong. We took Mom on a trip so we could talk at length about our concerns without Jane around, but Mom assured us everything was OK. She said she wanted to have Jane in the house because she did not want to be alone.

We were afraid if we pushed any harder to intervene, then Jane would convince Mom to cut off all relations with us. We intervened at the third opportunity but didn't press hard enough.

After this, Jane gained control of incoming and outgoing household mail. She convinced Mom to refinance the house while adding her to the deed. She took over responsibility for paying all household bills.

Once we found out about the financial changes, especially the deed, we confronted Mom and Jane. This time, Mom fought back against us. Mom insisted she could do what she wanted.

What we did not know was Mom was now being mentally abused and threatened. We learned later that Mom would wake up every day praying this would be her last day on earth. We should have called the authorities, but we did not want to lose all contact with Mom. After all, we could not help at all if we weren't in contact. Fourth chance for intervention missed.

Shortly after, Mom was served with a foreclosure notice. She thought, "how could this be?" She had always given Jane cash to make the house payment and other household bills. But Jane had been putting the money in a private bank account. All of the bills were months past due.

In addition, we discovered Jane had opened numerous credit card accounts in Mom's name and almost maxed them out. Mom was destroyed financially and mentally. When these discoveries became public, Jane moved out but not before withdrawing all available cash from Mom's bank account.

In the end, the bank foreclosed on Mom's house. Jane was legally on the deed, and Mom could not afford to fight her in court for the house. She decided to let it go so that Jane would be out, too, and we could move on.

After filing bankruptcy, Mom's life started to turn around. She even filed criminal charges against Jane, but the grand jury decided there was not enough legal evidence, so the case was closed.

Mom is doing well, but we wonder how things might have changed if we had intervened earlier, when the circumstances made the hair on the back of our necks stand.

If you are ever faced with a similar situation, don't accept that everything is fine, particularly if you suspect a Family member is being pressured. Be firm and get involved. Intervene. It may not be easy, but it may prevent a travesty.

   (Editor's note: This article was submitted, with permission from the writer, by Army Community Service as an example of bystander intervention. Bystander intervention is one of the themes of 2017 SHARP training. For more information about the SHARP program and training at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-8989.)