A bystander is someone in a crowd who sees a potentially dangerous situation and does nothing. A bystander does not protect the values of safety, trust, and honor that are central to our community.
In a recent study, researchers conducted an experiment in which a man pretended to assault a woman and the experimenters recorded how often others stopped to help. When only one bystander was watching the scene, the woman was helped 85% of the time. However, if there were 5 bystanders, the woman was only helped 31% of the time. In another experiment, social psychologists sought a better understanding of bystander apathy in episodes of public child abuse. They surveyed 269 witnesses who stated they had seen instances of child abuse. While around half of the participants in the survey stated that these instances occurred in public, only one out of four witnesses acted to intervene.
Does this make sense? Shouldn't having more people present increase the chances that someone will get help?
Amazingly, this is not the case. We all take cues from those around us about how to act in different situations. In emergency situations, many things bar bystanders from intervening:
• If no one else is acting, it is hard to go against the crowd.
• People may feel that they are risking embarrassment. (What if I'm wrong and they don't need help?)
• They may think there is someone else in the group who is more qualified to help.
• They may think that the situation does not call for help since no one else is doing anything
With each person taking cues from people around them, a common result is that no action is taken.
What can we do about this problem? As community members we all have a responsibility to help each other. Intervene regardless of what others are doing and don't be worried about being wrong; it is better to be wrong than to have done nothing at all.
Be on the look-out for potentially dangerous situations. Learn how to recognize indications of potentially dangerous situations. Here are some examples of “red flag” behaviors related to sexual assault:
o Inappropriate touching
o Suggestive remarks
o Testing boundaries
o Disregarding set boundaries
o Inappropriate intimacy
o Attempts to isolate someone
o Pressuring someone to drink
o Targeting someone who is visibly impaired
Ask yourself: If I were in this situation, would I want someone to help me? If a situation makes us uncomfortable, we may try to dismiss it as not being a problem. You may tell yourself that the other person will be fine, that he or she is not as intoxicated as you think, or that the person is able to defend him/herself. This is not a solution!
When in doubt, TRUST YOUR GUT. Instincts are seldom wrong. When a situation makes us feel uncomfortable, it is a generally a good indicator that something is not right. It is better to be wrong about the situation than do nothing. Many people feel reluctant to intervene in a situation because they are afraid of making a scene or feel as though a person would ask for help if it were needed.
You have the responsibility to intervene! You may think, “No one else is helping; it must not be a problem”, or “People who are sober don't think this is a problem, maybe I'm wrong?”, or “Jim's really responsible and he's not intervening... why should I?” Many people do not intervene in a potentially dangerous situation because they are looking to others for cues on how to act or they believe someone else will intervene.
In order to create a safer community, everyone can take steps to be an active bystander:
• Consider whether the situation demands some action
• Decide if you feel a responsibility to act
• Choose what form of assistance you can use to intervene
• Listen and be open to a victim seeking help
• Ask yourself, ‘If I were in this situation, would I want someone to help me?’
• Even small interventions can make a big difference in a questionable situation
• Just distracting someone, saying something, can stop the momentum of something bad
• Use your cell phone (or any phone) to contact 9-1-1
• Speak up if someone is putting others down
• Talk with your friends about how they would want you to intervene if they are in an uncomfortable situation