Sammy Nickalls
October 10, 2015 7:19 am

Earlier this week, Merritt Smith’s four-year-old daughter was sent to the hospital after being beaten up by a boy at school. And now, Merritt’s picture of her daughter’s swollen, cut face is going viral on Facebook. . . but not just because of the incident. It was because of five little words that a hospital employee told Merritt’s daughter. Five little words that may seem innocent, but are incredibly problematic in their very nature — a reflection of how our culture (sometimes) handles the unfair treatment of women. Five words that turn a blind eye to narratives of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Those five words? “I bet he likes you.”

On Facebook, Merritt Smith wrote an open letter to the man at the registration desk at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to let him know exactly why these words are not OK to say to her daughter. “[I’m] positive that you didn’t think that statement through,” Merritt wrote. “As soon as I heard it I knew that is where it begins. That statement is where the idea that hurting is flirting begins to set a tone for what is acceptable behavior.”

Merritt has spent the past four years teaching her daughter that pain and hurt is not OK, but hearing this phrase during a time of vulnerability from someone new could have pierced through that lesson, Merritt wrote. “In that moment, hurt and in a new place, worried about perhaps getting a shot or stitches you were a person we needed to help us and your words of comfort conveyed a message that someone who likes you might hurt you,” she wrote. “No. I will not allow that message to be OK. I will not allow it to be louder than ‘That’s not how we show we like each other.'”

Merritt urged the hospital employee to consider his words much more carefully before speaking. “At that desk you are in a position of influence, whether you realize it or not,” she wrote. “You thought you were making the moment lighter. It is time to take responsibility for the messages we as a society give our children.”

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The post — along with the heartbreaking picture accompanying it — has been shared over 26,000 times, with over a hundred comments expressing their sadness for Merritt and her daughter, as well as their complete and total agreement to her message. And for excellent reason.

Not only do girls hear this message and start to believe that it’s OK for boys to hurt them, but boys hear it, too — and can start believing that love can be conveyed through possessiveness, violence, and manipulation. Sadly, this message is spread all too often. Consider this — how often have we experienced a little boy pulling our hair hard at recess, only to be told by a teacher “He probably likes you”? The “boys will be boys” mentality is a deeply-ingrained, systemic problem of sexism in our society.

Luckily, the hospital spoke to the employee and have also reached out to Merritt. The hospital said in a statement:

Thank you, Merritt, for calling attention to an issue that is so rarely discussed. It’s time we stop making excuses for boys who hurt girls, especially at a young age, because this is the time we can make a change.

(Image via Facebook.)