Bystander syndrome, shockingly real

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jessica Tabor
  • 28th Bomb Wing Equal Opportunity Office
Ms. Kitty Genovese was murdered in an alley by her home as more than a dozen people either saw the attack or heard her screams through their apartment windows. Bystander Syndrome, also known as the Genovese Effect, is when a person witnesses a crime, emergency or an individual in need of help and does nothing. John Darley and Bibb Latane, both social psychologists, tabbed this the Genovese Syndrome in 1968 after Kitty was murdered four years earlier.

The research shows bystander syndrome to be shockingly real. Latane and Darley conducted an experiment that involved an individual that voiced cries for help and made sounds as though they were choking. When the person thought they were the only person in the room, 85 percent of the time they rushed to aid the choking person. The more people in the room that heard the choking, the lower the percentage of those that went to aid the victim. Latane and Darley conducted similar experiments in alternate locations, and all showed similar patterns. The more people around, the less likely someone was to assist the person in need. However, if one person intervenes, others will unite to lend a hand.

Many recent events have proven this syndrome as factual. For example on Oct. 13, 2011, a two-year-old girl in China was hit by a van, twice. Eighteen people walked by and saw the girl, but no one rushed to her aid. A woman pulled her to the side of the road seven minutes after the accident occurred. Unfortunately, too much time had passed and the young girl was brain dead and in a coma for a week before she passed away from her injuries. On Nov. 22, 2011, a woman was attacked by four men that tried to steal her handbag. She fell to the ground while they kicked and punched her, while bystanders observed and continued to walk by, not getting involved.

There are potentially many times individuals come face-to-face with a situation and not know what to do. If a person on Facebook says they are going to harm themselves, as one of 500 friends, there may be the thought that "one of those friends has already called to check on them." If all 500 friends think the exact same thing then the cry for help is unanswered. In January 2010, Ms. Simone Back passed away from a drug overdose. She had 1,082 Facebook "friends" that ignored the plea for help when she posted, "took all my pills be dead soon so bye bye everyone." Why is this? Many can rationalize to themselves why not to help. Some may think, "I don't know that person very well, someone else will help," or "they are just joking." In other instances, people are afraid to help. During a physical or sexual assault, a person may be afraid to be injured themselves or make the situation worse.

Anyone can find themselves faced with a situation where they are in need of a stranger's help. An accident can leave a person unable to assist themselves or others; they can be assaulted in an alley, or robbed at a supermarket. The best way to handle a situation, if witnessed, is to intervene and become an active bystander.

Mary Fran Hazinki, a nursing school professor, once said "If there is a bystander who recognizes the emergency and is ready, willing and able to act, they can double or triple survival rates if they begin immediate CPR."

Say or do something, anything, to help a person in need, because the tables could be turned. If ever in a situation and there are other people around, call to them for help. If a person is pinpointed, they are more likely to get involved. Yell very loudly and consecutively that assistance is needed so there is no question that someone should get involved. Be the person that saves a life and makes a difference.