By Jolie Day
Have you ever seen a person in need of help but thought someone else would eventually step in? What about someone being verbally or physically assaulted because of their race, identity, religion, or gender—and no one tried to help them? Witnessed someone who was visibly intoxicated with no one to be sure they were getting home safely? Have you yourself been in a situation and needed help, but no one seemed to want to get involved? All of these experiences illustrate what is known as the bystander effect.
According to Psychology Today, the bystander effect is a sociological phenomenon that occurs when the presence of others discourages anyone from providing assistance to someone in danger, as there is a perceived diffusion of responsibility amongst them. Devastatingly, this effect can be deadly. With the dangerous uptick in violence since the election, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men on average being sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and nearly 20 people per minute being abused by an intimate partner, it is important to understand what we can do to combat the bystander effect and keep people safe.
This lack of response can happen for a plethora of reasons. Many people feel that it is not their place to get involved, or that someone else will help with the problem. Or they might not know the best way to help. But what happens when no one steps up? Is that person left to fend for themselves? What if they are not physically able?
In cases of domestic and sexual violence, the victim is expected to leave or report their abuser after an incident. However, often the victim feels they are trapped or that no one will truly be able to help them. It is important to provide a safe environment for the victim and try to help them by connecting them to the resources they need.
It is vital that we stand against the increasing number of hate crimes in our country . This video demonstrates some of the steps that you can take to help someone who is being attacked. It is important to make the victim feel like they are not alone, and to assist them following the attack. One way to help is to serve as a witness and make a report with police. Remaining silent perpetuates the violence and makes the attacker believe they can get away with it.
It is also important to watch out for other situations that can possibly lead to a volatile environment. For example, this could be someone who has had too much to drink, or someone who is walking alone at night, or someone who simply looks uncomfortable. Reaching out and helping them could potentially save their lives. In my own experience, there have been men who have approached me and made me visibly unsafe, and my male friends thought it was funny—since they didn’t see him as a threat—and did nothing to intervene. I beat myself up… feeling as though I shouldn’t rely on others to speak up for me, but I feel that this a common experience for those who feel that to speak up will only make the aggressor more violent.
On the contrary, recently a woman working at a restaurant asked if an intoxicated man was bothering us and if he needed to be asked to leave. Her gesture reminded me of the multitude of ways I have known women to reach out in solidarity to one another—even if they are strangers. Women have shared stories of the instances where other women watching out for them helped prevent a potentially dangerous situation. This type of protection is necessary and undeniably powerful.
The point is: if you see something, do something. If you feel it is too dangerous for you to directly intervene, promptly get in touch with agencies that can. We can’t stand by anymore. Fortunately, there are local resources able to help reduce the bystander effect. The University of Idaho has programs like Green Dot that are able to teach people about bystander prevention and provide tools to help reduce interpersonal violence. There are also resources for people seeking support, such as Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, and the Office of Equity and Diversity, that provide services to make our community safer for everyone. These organizations partnered with people who are committed to working for change will help combat the dangers of the bystander effect. In order to reduce interpersonal violence, it takes each one of us to step up to the plate and vow to not be a bystander.