We sometimes hear of situations in which a person is attacked in broad daylight, in the presence of witnesses, and no one helps or does anything to intervene. Psychologists call this phenomenon “the bystander effect.”
Interestingly enough, the greater number of witnesses to a crime, the less likely someone is to intervene on behalf of the victim. The bystander effect occurs, in part, because of “diffusion of responsibility,” meaning that each individual witness believes that someone else will handle the situation.
In 2008, an elderly man was struck in a hit and run accident, and no one came to his aid. At least nine cars drove around the victim as he lay bleeding in the street, several pedestrians walked by without attempting to help the man, and no one called for an ambulance until a police car happened upon the scene a minute and a half later.
In 2010, a woman was raped in daylight on the side of the road, and though she called for help, passing motorists drove by without giving assistance. One beeped his horn. Another slowed, but continued on. After the attack, she even asked a passing pedestrian if she could use his cell phone to call police, but he ignored her.
In 2013, a woman was dragged off of a bus and beaten in an attempted robbery, and despite the presence of several witnesses, no one helped her.
Certainly, the “bystander effect” may prevent people from coming to a victim’s aid. However, others want to offer assistance but are afraid for their own safety. Sometimes, doing the right thing can get a person in trouble, as recent events in Oklahoma show.
In late January, an Edmond man driving through his apartment complex came across two men having car trouble. He stopped to help the men with the car, but when they didn’t have any luck, the men asked if he would give them a ride to an apartment on the other side of the complex. After they got in the vehicle, they attacked the man, robbing him of his wallet and cell phone. They tried to steal his car, but they could not figure out how to start the car with a push-button ignition.
Last week, a woman pulled a knife on a man who held the door for her at a local store. The man opened the door for the woman, and when she did not respond by thanking him, he sarcastically muttered, “You’re welcome.” Apparently, she did not appreciate either the gesture or his sarcasm, and she pulled out a pocket knife and began threatening him.
And finally, a man who tried to get help for a victim of domestic violence became a victim himself when the woman’s husband attacked and killed him. Police say Rachel Willis, 37, of Stillwater, went to the apartment of her neighbor, William Marg, 64, and told him that she was tired of being abused by her husband. Marg called a pastor and his wife to come pick up Rachel Willis. When her husband, Ralph Willis, 42, awoke, he discovered his wife missing. He went to Marg’s apartment, where the two men argued, and Ralph Willis allegedly stabbed Marg to death. When Rachel Willis returned home, the couple set fire to the apartment in an effort to cover up Marg’s murder. As they fled, police shot and killed Ralph Willis. Rachel Willis is charged with being an accessory to both murder and arson.
Determining when to get involved and when to protect one’s own safety can be a difficult thing. What do you think? When should you get personally involved, and when should you step back and call for help?