Friday, May 10, 2013

The Tough Conversations: Bystander Complacency and Responsibility

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil
is that good men [and women] do nothing.
- Edmond Burke

Bystander Complacency, also called known as the Bystander Effect or the Genovese Syndrome by social psychiatrists, occurs when individuals witness a crime but do not offer the victim any help.  There is a direct relationship between the number of witnesses to a crime and a lack of response by individuals - the larger the number of bystanders, the less likely anyone is to intervene or report the crime.  Two recent cases of bystander complacency involve a 2-year-old in China, Wang Yue,  who was struck by a car in 2011 and left in the street as at least 18 people walked past and the 2009 gang rape of a 15-year-old outside a school dance which was witnessed by at least 20 people.
The basic psychology of  bystander complacency is the result of a perceived diffusion of responsibility.  Witnesses of a crime don't see anyone else intervening or calling for help, so they assume that lack of response is the correct response.  It is time to take responsibility for your actions, even if those actions are a lack of taking action.

It is true that you cannot control the actions of the people around you, but you can control your response to their actions.  Is it scary? Yes. But you will feel so much better knowing that you did not stand by and let something awful happen.  The above examples are extreme, but bystander complacency occurs when you watch someone get ridiculed and do nothing, or witness a crime and fail to notify authorities.  When you see someone being bullied and you don't call out the aggressor or notify an adult you are just as responsible as the bully.

Does taking responsibility mean putting yourself in danger? No. If you are at a party and you observe some guys messing with a girl who seems inebriated, you don't necessarily need to put yourself between the aggressors and the victim.  You can find an adult, or you can notify authorities.  If you are worried about getting in trouble for underage drinking or illegal drug use, leave the party and make an anonymous phone call to the police.  Honestly, which is worse: getting in trouble for being a teenager or preventing a rape, physical abuse or psychological damage?

Somebody has to be the "somebody else" who takes action.

Need help learning to Take a Stand?
Assertive Advocacy
Overcoming the Bystander Effect
Staying Safe While Helping Others
Stop Bullying
Take a Stand!
We Are All Bystanders