Media Coverage of Bystander Story

Dear Engaged Bystander, Have you seen the recent disturbing story about the rape of a young girl (15 years old) on a side street, in broad daylight? Some media outlets are picking up the story and saying that no one did anything. Someone who drove by the scene was quoted as saying that they thought they were “just having sex.” It is hard to imagine -- this girl was raped on the sidewalk, with people driving by, in daylight, and remember, this is in the middle of winter!

Below is the CNN report on the crime:

I also find it disturbing the way the story was covered. 
The reports mentioned that “no one did anything to stop the rape”. When it is reported that way, it makes news. But it also means that we can sit back and say how horrible, how irresponsible and know that we could never do that. It is an easy pass. 
But if the lead on the story tells us that someone did call 911, someone else went back to the scene, a young mother drove by and blew her horn, we THEN start to ask: What did they do? Did it make any difference? What would we want someone to do?   
There is so much more in this story but I am simplifying the debate for the blog. I would love to know what you think about this story. Let me know.
Thank you,
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Submitted by gstancliff on

Working hard to not help.

I was in a first aid training the other day, and the instructor spoke about the (occasionally absurd) lengths people go to when avoiding intervening. I'm sure many people can relate with the feelings-- why isn't anyone else acting? What can I do? Is it safe? Am I in a hurry?

I look forward to reading you explore this.

Submitted by jtabachnick on

Great point. There are so many reasons why people don't intervene. Sometimes the reasons are very valid (e.g., it is not safe), but that does not mean that the only other option is to choose to do nothing. Calling 911, looking for others who can say or do something are also options. And again, there are so many chances to talk or act -- and ideally it takes place before there is violence. warmly, Joan

Submitted by jtl on

So, let me approach this story from a different angle. I believe that society's obsession with sex and the inaccurate depiction of teens participating in "crazy" sexual rendezvouses has in part impacted the response of bystanders on this occasion. Seriously, who really thinks teenagers have sex in broad daylight on the sidewalk? And, even if it were consensual, what adult feels that behavior is appropriate? It's like we are so skewed by media influence that we have lost our basic sense of right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate. Even if it were two consenting adults, I would have called 911 because the behavior within itself is so grossly inappropriate that it demands our attention.

I can safely say that this story infuriates me and is yet another reminder of why engaging bystanders is so important.

Submitted by akallen on

The Witness who spoke frustrated me personally. She says she had her children with her, therefore she would have probably "just" called 911. Her tone minimizes how important her intervention could have been. Someone did call 911 and while it may have been to late to prevent the sexual assault, it did aide in the offender's arrest.
The witness just kept saying..."all i could have done was call 911", almost as if that were insignificant.
Kudos to the lady who did call 911!
Did anyone ever what the "what would you do?" series that Nightline aired. They would sit up scenarios and video how bystanders would react to things. It was shocking to see so many do nothing.

Submitted by jesspatto on

This reminds me of the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. In one of the chapters, he discusses how crowds react to a number of things, including crimes (like rape and sexual assault). He says that if a crime occurs in the middle of a crowd and lots of people see it, they are *less* likely to try to intervene or call for help. On the flip side, if a crime occurs in an isolated area or if a bystander believes s/he may be the only one to have seen it occur, that person is *more* likely to help. When dozens of people see something happen, they take strength in their decision to NOT do something when they see others doing nothing. A person who believes that s/he is the ONLY person who witnesses a crime is more likely to help because they know no one else even knows what's going on. This "sheep" mentality makes activating bystanders very difficult. This is one of the challenges I face as a sexual violence prevention educator but I'm so glad to have found this blog!

Submitted by GMBM2010 on

As a SANE in an area that serves 5 colleges, I get many alleged victims who state symptoms indicative of drugs put in their alcoholci beverage and when she wakes she is nude from the waste down. She states there are multiple people around her. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. I wish someone would produce educational glips for colleges that shows how bystanders can act to save these victims.
I understand the bystander mentality, and usually these are younger females and males newly on their own when they end up at these parties, so educational films of what a responsibile person does and depicting that person as a hero, would provide a model for students to follow. (I agree it seems like common sense, but as Joan Tabachnick's book shows, and someone else pointed out an incident in the book 'Blink' and when young adults are somewhat inebtiated, individuality does not take hold of most people.) When people are shown in advance what should and can be done, I really do believe both yound men and women would call 911 and would act to protect a fellow student who passes out and/or is being raped.