Sammy Nickalls
Updated October 10, 2015 5:14 am
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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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