Social Psychology by psychologists Elliot Aronson and Timothy Wilson describes the bystander effect as “a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely proportional to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.”
I recall a family trip to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey when a rather menacing looking man verbally threatened a park employee with physical harm because the employee observed his family attempting to cut in line. Never mind that nobody except yours truly at 11 years old bothered to even say anything about said attempt – nobody wanted to get involved when the man started hurling expletives and making threats that put Serena Williams’ U.S. Open outburst to shame.
The worst part was that when security arrived to deal with the situation, the man denied all wrongdoing and nobody said anything! I finally took it upon myself to speak up about what happened, and security escorted the man out of the park.
While some may choose to call me a squealer, I think I did the right thing by getting a prick like that out of the park, showing him that there actually were consequences to his behavior and showing the park employee that he could do the right thing by the other park patrons without having to fear that he would get physically assaulted by morons who don’t think that the rules apply to them.
Plus, I got to a pass for the whole family to jump to the head of the line for any one ride I chose (which helped a lot since it was an unbearably hot day and the line for one of the splash rides was incredibly long) so I was rewarded with more than just the satisfaction of having done the right thing.
On a more grave note, a 15-year-old California high school student was a recent victim of the bystander effect on Saturday when she was gang raped outside of her school while the annual homecoming dance was going on inside. Investigators stated that as many as 15 male individuals gathered to observe the crime without notifying the police or trying to help the victim, with some eventually participating in the act. The victim was left unconscious in critical condition under a bench.
Now, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of such a psychological phenomenon as the bystander effect, but I think it is only responsible to qualify that individuals have to have a certain mental or moral weakness in order to be swept up in such an effect. If your parents raised you to have a strong moral backbone, you would immediately recognize a rape for what it was no matter how many people were standing around gawking or even cheering, and you would know to do the right thing either by intervening or contacting the authorities.
Some people may try to claim that the individuals in question were possibly scared of what the perpetrator(s) would do, but that claim is rendered null and void by the simple fact that any of those individuals could have easily removed themselves from the scene and contacted the police to handle the situation – they did not need to physically rescue the victim in order to help the situation. Instead, these individuals chose to watch the proceedings like some sick voyeurs watching a twisted rape fetish porno.
One has to wonder how we as human beings have become so apathetic that we can just stand around when someone is in need of help right in front of us and justify to ourselves that we don’t need to intervene or help because “someone else will” even when we are in no real danger ourselves.
Thankfully, the victim is now in stable conditions thanks to the efforts of the Richmond police and the staff at the area hospital to which she was flown… and no thanks to the worthless, spineless individuals who decided that it wasn’t their responsibility to do what was right and stop the rapists.