Posts tagged ‘concerned citizens’

Don’t Be a Bystander

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

Halloween Safety Myths

For good reason, Halloween strikes fear into the hearts of parents everywhere. Not only is there the threat of ghosts and ghouls, but it’s the one night of the year when we send our children out to wander the streets of our cities and towns to beg candy from complete strangers. Which is, pretty much, the exact opposite of what we try and teach them the other 364 days of the year.

Halloween also has a reputation for being a night, more than others, when children are preyed upon by twisted individuals who what to poison their candy and kidnap them. It’s easy to see how these fears have arisen. Given the creepiness of the holiday along with the anonymity of costumed adults, walks in the dark, and bags full of candy from strangers, it’s not surprising that parents have put barriers in place to prevent crime against their children on this night.

However, two specific fears have been allowed to fester in the minds of concerned parents for years, but have no actual basis in reality. In order to truly keep your children safe on Halloween, its best to dispel the myths and deal with the real threats of the holiday.

Poison Candy

For years, news media and community groups have counseled parents to vigorously inspect their children’s candy for razor blades, pins, or poison. (As well, shortly after 9/11 parents were told to inspect candy for Anthrax.) But you will be hard pressed to find a single case of Halloween candy poisoning, let alone candy laced with razor blades or pins. In fact, there has never been a recorded case of mass Halloween candy poisoning.

There was a case in 1974, where a father slipped a cyanide-laced Pixie stick into his son’s trick-or-treating bag. The son died, but the father was found guilty of murder and executed for his crime. So, according to precedent, Halloween candy from strangers is statistically safer than candy from family and friends. (For more on this myth, click here.)

Child Molesters

In general, most people are afraid of sex offenders and for good reason. Sex offender residency laws are popular precisely because no one wants to associate with a known rapist or raise their children next door to a child molester. However, there is a sense that child molesters pose a greater threat on Halloween than on any other day of the year. Maybe it’s the hordes of children knocking on neighborhood doors that gets us thinking about sex offenders in the area, but in reality sex crimes against children have never increased on Halloween. Actually, sex crimes against children are traditionally higher during summer months, and tend to decrease as the weather gets cooler.

Real Threats

By no means is Halloween the safest holiday of the year or the most crime free. Children are still at risk for getting lost or injuring themselves while walking around a dark neighborhood in a cumbersome costume. Make sure that your children are accompanied by an adult at all times—preferably with a flashlight. Also, make sure your children know basic traffic safety rules. Besides preventing them from eating too much candy, the best thing you can do for your children on Halloween is to be with them and make sure they have fun.

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October 28, 2009 at 10:00 pm 1 comment

Domestic Violence Statistics Not Low Enough

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 552, 000 females, age 12 and older, experienced non-fatal violence from an intimate partner in 2008. In 2007, 1,640 females were killed by an intimate partner, making up 70% of all intimate partner homicides. And although the numbers of women killed by an intimate partner has declined in the last decade, I don’t know anyone who thinks these numbers are low enough.

To make things worse, the reach of domestic violence goes beyond the immediate victim. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 38% of victims of domestic violence had children under the age of 12 living in the home. And of those children in the home, it is estimated that 60% directly witnessed the violence. (See full statistics from the BJS here.)

Societal Impediments

For some reason, our society, and many others across the globe, have an aversion to interfering in domestic violence incidents. Some people feel that it’s a family matter or that they have no business getting into a fight between spouses or family members. This attitude has even been reflected in law enforcement practice, waiting for a battered woman to press charges against an abuser before taking any legal action. But perhaps things are changing with a new program created by the Baltimore Police Department.

A New Way to Fight Domestic Violence

The Baltimore PD has created a new Family Crime Unit designed specifically to intervene in domestic violence situations early, before these situations descalate into serious injury or death. According to Peter Hermann, of the Baltimore Sun, the new unit has been modeled after the homicide division, in order to more aggressively act on domestic violence incidents and prevent further violence before it happens. And the unit is already seeing some success. For example, this year, Baltimore has only seen 4 domestic killings, as opposed to 13-14 in years previous. And this success comes at a time when the economy is down, traditionally a time when domestic violence rises. (Read about the extent of the program here.)

Their approach to domestic violence is something that needs to be modeled in other law enforcement agencies across the county. Domestic violence is NOT just a family matter. It affects us all. Be aware of the issues and become an active citizen in favor of a smarter, more aggressive domestic violence response unit for you local law enforcement agency.

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October 26, 2009 at 11:00 pm 2 comments

‘Zero Tolerance’ May Harm More Than it Helps

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

The camping utensil brought to school by Zachary Christie

Six-year-old first grader, Zachary Christie, was recently at the center of a debate over a school district policy when he brought a camping utensil to school. The tool looked like a pocket knife and contained a fork, spoon, can opener, and a small knife. For bringing a deadly weapon to school, Zachary was suspended for five days and was prohibited from returning to Downes Elementary School until after 45 days at an alternative school. Zach says he brought the tool to school so he could eat his pudding. (source)

The Christina School District, in Newark, Delaware, has a so-called “zero-tolerance” policy against bringing dangerous items to school, spurred mostly by safety concerns raised by Columbine and other school shootings. But after public outcry over the extreme sentence for a 6-year-old who wanted to eat pudding, the Christina School District decided to reexamine it’s harsh policy. “We need to recognize the cognitive level of these kids,” said school board member John Mackenzie. “We need to provide a little leeway.”

Political Rhetoric

“Zero-tolerance” is great political phrases. When a politician or a school board member up reelection uses it, they’re seen as “tough” on crime and someone who is protecting the public from all the bad people out in the world who want to harm them. But a one-size-fits-all approach to punishing criminals is rarely productive and can often be harmful to both the criminal and society.

Drug Policy

For example, ANY drug offense will bar the offender from receiving any future federal student aid money. This zero-tolerance policy means that any person convicted of possession of any amount of controlled substance can never receive federal loan or grant money to attend college. I realize that this punitive measure is meant as a deterrent to keep kids off drugs, but it also harms ex-drug users by denying them any help in getting an education and turning their lives around. On the other hand, if you are a child molester, rapist, or murderer, you can receive federal student aid without any problems.

Sex Offender Laws

In addition, sex offender residency restrictions are very popular for obvious reasons: no one wants a convicted sex offender living next door to them or next to a school or playground. However, overly harsh restriction laws also prevent former offenders from finding descent housing, pushing them to edges of society where their likelihood of re-offending is actually higher—as evidenced by the case of Philip Garrido. Offender residency restriction laws have also been used to keep sex offenders from attending church and receiving counseling, and, in Florida, has created a homeless sex offender camp underneath a bridge where over 100 registered sex offenders live, creating a public health and safety concern. These one-size-fits-all policies not only punish violent sex offenders like rapists and child molesters, but—in some states—punishes those who have urinated in public or had sex with their high school girlfriend after they turned 18.

Get Smarter

As citizens, we need to step back from zero-tolerance rhetoric and take a smarter approach to handling criminals in our society—not a “tougher” approach. Fortunately, the Christina School Board reversed its zero-tolerance policy and allowed for the age and cognitive ability of the perpetrator to be taken into account when assigning punishment. Now that Zach can go back to school, what has he learned from the whole experience? I’m sure he’s learned not to take a camping tool to school anymore, but how will this experience affect the way he views teachers, rules, law enforcement, and any other form of authority from now on? Will he see them as allies and protectors, or will he see them as vindictive enforcers who would rather punish instead of teach? For his sake and for ours, I hope it is the former.

Check out this video of the Christina School District debating the policy, as well as reactions from concerned parents:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

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October 15, 2009 at 5:00 am 3 comments

Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention just released their study, Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey. The study included over 4,500 juveniles age 17 and younger and covered topics from bullying, to child maltreatment, to sexual victimization. Here are some interesting findings:

  • Children 7-10 years old are the most likely to experience physical assault/bullying from siblings and peers
  • Nearly 1 in 10 surveyed had been sexually victimized, and nearly 20% of all girls are sexually victimized by the time they are 17
  • 1 in 5 children suffer maltreatment (physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and more) by the time they are 17
    Children 10-13 are at the highest risk for kidnapping than any other age group
  • Overall, adolescents age 14-17 are at the highest risk for witnessing or being the victim of physical abuse and sexual victimization of all types

Any violence against children is too much violence against children. Talk to your kids about what they can do to protect themselves from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Foster a relationship with your children that is open and honest, where they can feel safe talking to you about these issues. Overall, as adults and parents, we need to be the examples for our children. If we are physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive to them or others—or let abuse we see go unreported—they will learn from us.

Let’s all work together to stop violence against children. Here’s one organization that is trying to help: www.darkness2light.org. They have great resources for parents for raising awareness and combating child sexual abuse.

Read the entire results of the study here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227744.pdf

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October 12, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

Preventing Child Abuse Through Education

The Future of Children, a collaboration between Princeton and the Brookings Institute, publishes a semi-annual journal focused on studies and issues regarding children and youth: challenges, concerns, trends, etc. This Fall’s issue dedicates its entire issue to preventing child abuse. The eight articles published this month cover issues like the effect of community efforts in preventing child abuse, preventing abuse through parent training, drug treatment, child protective services, and more.

To get a good understanding of current research regarding child abuse and prevention, you can download and read the entire journal for free here: http://www.futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/journal_details/index.xml?journalid=71

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October 2, 2009 at 12:32 pm Leave a comment

Don’t Ignore Domestic Violence

The Galveston County Daily News recently published a story about offering help to victims of domestic violence. Dr. Jeff Temple, a professor at the University of Texas, asks these questions:

If you witnessed someone breaking into your neighbor’s house, would you call the police?

What if you saw someone stealing the neighbor’s car? How about if you saw your neighbor hit his wife?

This last question might be a bit more difficult to answer, but it shouldn’t be.

Many people are afraid to get involved in instances of domestic abuse. Some think it is a personal matter and they shouldn’t get involved in anyone’s private business. But Dr. Temple says that kind of thinking is wrong:

Domestic violence is not a private matter; it is a severe and pervasive public health concern that demands the same diligence as other problems you might encounter in your neighborhood.

A marriage license is not a license to hit. If you witness an incident of domestic violence, call the police.

Assault is assault no matter how you slice it. Just because it occurs between intimate partners does not mean we can look the other way.

If you know someone who is involved in an abuse relationship, offer specific help. Let them know where they can go, what numbers to call, what websites to go to, and who they can turn to for help. They may not want your help, but if you offer it, then they will know who they can come to when they are ready to get help.

Read Temple’s full article here: http://www.galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=6d157091e4add50c

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September 29, 2009 at 5:00 am Leave a comment

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