Why We Stand and Watch-Bystander Effect

Recently in Mumbai, there was an incident where a young girl being assaulted publicly and the people around her not helping her was caught on camera. You wonder how they could just stand there and let her be attacked while they had every opportunity of helping. We may not know why those people stood and watched but there is something called ‘bystander effect” that takes hold of us in such situations.

The term became popular after the Kitty Genovese case in the USA. In 1964 Kitty Genovese was assaulted and stabbed to death in New York, but no one intervened to help her despite there being multiple witnesses to the crime. It often makes news when people fail to react to a victim of assault or accident often resulting in the death of the victim. So why is it that we stand and watch or walk away? A lot of reasons have been attributed to it, the major one being ‘diffusion of responsibility’- that is everyone thinks that someone else will help.

Contrary to what we may think this effect is aggravated in a crowd, as people feel an inhibition to put themselves “out there”. It will also depend on the familiarity with the environment, the familiarity with the crowd or the victim or can be based on culture or race. But at the end of the day, these excuses are not enough to justify our failure to help a fellow being. When one person comes forward it would encourage others also to offer help. A step that you take forward can help save a life. Many lives are lost and many lose faith in humanity when no one stands up for them.

The simplest thing to do is to imagine yourself in that situation – wouldn’t you want to be helped? There is no use leaning on ‘’ bystander effect’’ for our indifference. Walking away is the easiest option but being human means standing up for each other and being there for each other. A line from Martin Neimoller’s poem about the public’s indifference to Nazi Holocaust can be used in this context as a chilling reminder of what our inaction would cost us.

‘’Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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