Witness to Nanny Abuse: Responding to a Bully

Mom begins to berate the nanny about a long list of tasks, most of them not related to child care, another common complaint of working nannies. She adds insult to injury and tells the nanny that she will not pay her for the week. The man at the next table casts a few furtive glances over at our actors but mostly buries his head further and further into newspaper.

Finally mom lost her temper completely.

"I pay you to do what I ask you to do. Do you hear me? Do you hear me?!" she exclaimed, and then grabbed the nanny by the arm. At this point the man at the next table simply turned his head away. He had been listening to the abuse for 15 minutes and never once intervened, even after the mother became physical.

The actors refused to give up even though the scenario was taking a toll on them. Mom began to scold the nanny because she forgot to bring a package to the coffee shop. The dressing down took on an ominous tone.

"I could just slap you across the face, because I'm so pissed off at you right now. You're useless and you're worthless," she yelled out.

A woman from across the room had finally had enough, "Whoa whoa whoa, don't call her worthless," she yelled back.

"It's none of your business," our actor said, egging her on.

The bystander walks over to the mother, "Then don't do it in a public place. You treat your employee like this? You're repulsive," she says and walks away.

We caught up with the woman outside and she was still reeling from the experience.

"I felt like she was getting abused, definitely," she said. "And then I felt like it was inappropriate to do that in front of other people. She's lucky that I didn't throw the coffee all over her computer and her and her little daughter."

Confronting a Bully

For the two days we shot in Ozzie's Coffee, more than 250 people witnessed our scenario and we saw some incredible acts of generosity. One woman offered the actor playing our nanny her phone number so she could help her find another job. Another woman moved to action gave the nanny $40 to get home after she overheard the mother threatening not to pay her. But we were surprised at how few people actually got involved. Most would only respond after they were provoked or when the abusive employer left the scene.

Magee was not at all surprised that so few people directly intervened. "I think approaching the abuser is very difficult because one of the things going through people's minds is, what's the risk for me here if I confront this individual? And with an abuser, who is acting in a nasty way, we get concerned that we might be under threat if we confront that person."

A Young Tyrant

We decided to take our experiment one step further and decided to see what would happen if the one doling out the abuse was a child. Our actors walk into Ozzie's Coffee, one a nanny, the other a little girl under her care. The nanny told the little girl to get off the phone, "I need to talk to you, you need to hang up now," she says. "My stupid nanny wants to talk to me, my stupid nanny," the little girl tells her friend on the phone and reluctantly hangs up.

So far no one intervened, so our young tyrant gave it another shot and began berating the nanny.

"My mom pays you to be a good nanny. If you weren't so worthless …" the little girl continued to berate her caretaker.

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