Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bystander Effect: Failure of crime witnesses to intervene

What would you do if you saw a child being raped in a mikveh? What if you heard one of your child's friends was being abused by his parents? What if you saw money being stolen from a pushka? Would you intervene and try and stop the crime?

Time Magazine   As the trial of two high school football players accused of the rape approaches, it’s hard not to wonder about those who simply watched. Why didn’t anyone try to stop the assault, even by anonymously dialing 911?  Why did the bystanders apparently egg on the bullying that escalated into rape, seeing the behavior as something to broadcast rather than conceal? And, perhaps more important, how can the inertia of inaction be broken?

Unfortunately, bystander inaction is so common that it has been an active area of social-psychology research since 1964, when Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old New York woman, was stabbed to death on the street in front of witnesses who failed to get help. The original version of the story — that 38 people saw the crime and did nothing — was later found to be inaccurate, with more people calling the police than was initially reported. But cases like Steubenville incident illustrate that bystander inaction persists, especially among teens and young adults. Research now suggests, however, that mobilizing witnesses is not only possible but could be an effective way to prevent these types of crimes from occurring or escalating.

Hundreds of colleges now offer programs to encourage intervention. “It’s just emerging,” says Sarah McMahon, associate director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University, of these efforts. “There are a number of programs now around the country, and the idea is very appealing. So far, the evaluations show that the programs do have a really positive effect both on willingness to step in and on actual behaviors.”

The interventions are based on research that suggests that the strongest enabling factor in sexual violence is the idea that such behavior is covertly condoned. “We know that people — especially adolescents — listen to peers,” says McMahon. “If their peers are expressing disapproval of the behavior, that’s really powerful, and that’s a key ingredient in how to ultimately prevent these crimes from happening, more than any other techniques that have been tried.”

In fact, studies show that teens’ beliefs about other people’s perspectives on the acceptability of bullying and sexual assault have a greater influence on their behavior than their own personal views. “Especially with men and boys, their willingness to intervene is based on whether or not they think their male peers would approve. That is the strongest factor, more so than their own attitudes,” McMahon says.

1 comment:

  1. We, among ourselves, have to find our way to speaking about this, not as the 'bystander effect', as though we're oracular sociologists looking-in from the outside, but as the 'bystander aveira'. Of course, being who we are, we have to pay attention to the halakhic parameterization. Such a parameterization, however, can't precede our having a living fear of, and communal discourse about, the problem qua aveira, which is far too anemic today.


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