Sunday, November 1, 2009

The By-Stander Effect

I wrote an essay "Gang-Raped on School Grounds" that I posted on October 27. It was my personal response to the horror visited upon a young woman after she left a school event at night.

Since then, police report (click here for the latest on the continuing investigation), as many as 10 individuals, most of them teens, may have been involved in the rape; six have been arrested in connection with the case. As many (perhaps more) may have witnessed the crime—and done nothing to intervene. No one ran to get help at the school where a homecoming dance was in progress. No one pulled out a cellphone to call police. No one yelled, "Stop!" Not one apparently thought or could think to do anything.

Recall: this gang-rape of a 15-year-old went on for at least two hours!

This incident raises so many questions, some of which I asked in my earlier post. Questions about how boys and men are taught to regard and treat young girls and women, not just in other places throughout the world, not just in places where war has become a way of life, but here in our own neighborhoods. Questions about being willing to get involved, to take responsibility for someone in need, to act in common, as a community, to protect, not defile, each other. Questions about the most fundamental difference between right and wrong.

The usual experts are trotting out to give a name to what happened among those who saw and did nothing. They call it "the by-stander effect". It's described as something so powerful that everyone who experiences it seems to lose the will to answer a cry for help.

What is it about watching violence that so desensitizes an observer that he or she is utterly muted, incapable of responding except to spectacle-as-entertainment?

People who host parties where alcohol is served can and have been held responsible for guests who got drunk at those parties and later killed someone because the guests "drove drunk". The hosts are held accountable for failing to exercise their "duty of care".

Maybe "duty of care" laws should apply to by-standers to crimes, too.

By-stander effect. Call it what you will. It's a crime, too.

1 comment:

Jennifer @ said...

What a sad, sad story.

I'm with you: Bystanders ought to be held accountable ...

It also drives me to action. This convicts me of the times I "see" or hear about unjustice happening around me and do little or nothing about it.

Thank you for taking the time to post this.