Bystander effect: Why do we stand by & not intervene in cases of harm, violence?

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If something bad were to unfold in front of our eyes, many of us believe we would have the power to take action or help in some way.

But in many instances, people fail to help others in trouble.

The ‘bystander effect’, also known as ‘bystander apathy’ is a phenomenon that’s said to occur when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, such as a case of bullying, assault or any crime.

In the build up to International Day Against Violence Against Women and Children, Refiloe Mpakanyane had a conversation with resident clinical psychologist, Khosi Jiyane about this.

There was a widely shared Whatsapp video of a woman badly beaten up by her partner, having a conversation with someone in hospital about her situation. Her one eye is so swollen she can hardly see. She tells this person she was beaten up before with a golf stick. Though it’s a joke, she says that even with one eye, she can still see his love for her.

Khosi Jiyane, resident clinical psychologist

I had a visceral reaction to this video because someone witnessed this. She was beaten up so badly before and no one did anything about it. If someone had done anything about it then, this incident could have been prevented. That made me want to talk about our culpability as bystanders…as the others in such situations. So I think there’s a question I need to throw…”What would you do if you witnessed someone in a distressful or emergency situation?”

Khosi Jiyane, resident clinical psychologist

Jiyane believes this indifference to distress and harm is not due to moral decay, but rather a “moral slumber”.

One would expect that the more people there are, the more likely people would intervene. The irony is that research indicates that it’s the opposite. We feel a greater sense of culpability to do something about the situation when we’re the only people. The more people present, the more diffusion of that responsibility. It’s like we do some sort of internal assessment to weigh it up on why other people didn’t do something about it.

Khosi Jiyane, resident clinical psychologist

In a crisis situation, there’s the natural inclination to rationalise what has happened and who should be blamed for the de-escalation.

There’s a survival instinct in all of us and a self preservation.

Khosi Jiyane, resident clinical psychologist

Sometimes those closest to the victims of abuse are fully aware of the violence, but choose to wash their hands clean of the situation.

With that video, there are comments that ‘love is blind’…these can’t people can’t be helped…it will be a futile exercise because she will go back to him. We are looking at the victim and saying she should know better. And so my question is, does she not have family that can intervene with him in a manner that makes it clear to him there’s no second chances for him? There’s no justification.

Khosi Jiyane, resident clinical psychologist

Scroll up for the full interview.

This article first appeared on 702 : Bystander effect: Why do we stand by & not intervene in cases of harm, violence?

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