Don’t Be a Bystander

November 2, 2009 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

Berger/AP

Last week, outside of a homecoming dance held at Richmond High School, in Richmond, Calif., a 15-year-old girl was gang raped and sexually assaulted for over 2 hours by a handful of young men while onlookers watched. It was not until one student overheard others bragging about it at the dance that the police were called to the scene. When they arrived, they found the young woman half-naked near a picnic table, less than a block from the entrance to the school dance. (source)

Five suspects have now been charged in the rape and beating of the girl. But what is more astounding is that roughly 12-20 people (according to accounts) witnessed the gang rape over the 2-hour span and did absolutely nothing about it. In fact, some took pictures with their cell phones.

“She was raped, beaten, robbed and dehumanized by several suspects who were obviously OK enough with it to behave that way in each other’s presence. What makes it even more disturbing is the presence of others. People came by, saw what was happening and failed to report it.” — Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan (source)

The Bystander Effect

Some psychologists ascribe the behavior of the onlookers to “The Bystander Effect.” According to studies, individuals are less likely to intervene in an emergency/crisis if there are other people around:

“When something unusual happens, we look to others to figure out how we should react. If we see other people doing nothing, we usually conclude that nothing should be done. The problem occurs when everybody assumes the same thing, a phenomenon that psychologists call ‘pluralistic ignorance.’” (source)

That makes us all sound like mindless animals, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, many studies have found that this is the case, more often than not.

Stand Up. Say Something. Call 911.

It took over 2 hours for someone to call police to the rescue of this teen girl. In the recent case of Phillip Garrido, all his neighbors thought he was creepy and probably up to something illegal. But because no one was willing to push the matter, Jaycee Duggard was imprisoned in his backyard for 18 years.

We might think it is uncomfortable to intervene in a domestic dispute. Or we might think that someone else will call 911. We may even fear for our own safety if we witness the victimization of another. But studies have shown that when people know about the Bystander Effect, they are less likely to sit idly by while someone else is in trouble.

So consider this your education. Don’t be a victim of the Bystander Effect. When you see someone in trouble, being assaulted or victimized; stand up, say something, and call the police. You may prevent this type of atrocious act from happing to another teen girl outside a high-school dance.

For other perspectives on this case:
Rape: America’s Least Reported Crime
Bystanders No More: Teaching Kids to Respond to Violent Crime
Friend of Gang Rape Victim Blasts School Officials Over Safety
Richmond High Rape—What Do We Do With This?

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