This is why we need more active bystander training

8 04 2009

The New York Daily News recently reported a story about a woman who was raped in a Queens subway station in June 2005 when she was a 25 year old graduate student.  She was screaming for help and both the subway conductor and the token clerk ignored her.  Though the rape was not caught on the surveillance cameras and the attacker was not caught, the woman sued the the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) for failing to intervene on her behalf.

Last Tuesday, March 31st, the judge ruled against her:

In a nine-page ruling, Queens Supreme Court Justice Kevin Kerrigan concluded a token clerk and a subway conductor had no responsibility to intervene and were following work rules by not confronting the rapist.

Kerrigan noted that the token clerk, John Koort, tried to call for help by pressing an emergency button inside his booth – which he never left, even as the attacker dragged the woman down to a lower platform. “This is not the type of egregious situation that offends common sense and decency … where they watched and did nothing,” Kerrigan wrote.

While it may not be part of the job requirements for the subway conductor or the token clerk to intervene and help her out, shouldn’t we all have a responsibility to help each other out to prevent traumatic violent crimes and victimization like that?  I understand that it may be difficult and it may jeopardize one’s safety in some situations to confront a violent attacker, but the least either the subway conductor or the token clerk could’ve done was to call 911 and yell “Get off her!  The police are coming!”  Especially since it was quite obvious that the woman was in clear and present danger – the assailant dragged her to a lower platform and she was screaming for help.

Yes, it’s not illegal to not intervene in a violent situation, but don’t we all have a moral obligation to help others who are in danger?  Don’t we all have a moral obligation to help challenge and end the cyclical culture of violence we live in?  If you saw someone being terrorized wouldn’t you want to help him or her?  If there were more active bystanders out there, a lot more sexual violence and other forms of violence could’ve been prevented from happening in the first place.

There will always be perpetrators and there will always be victims.  If we do nothing to help the victims then in a way we are acting as accomplices to the perpetrators.  However, we can choose to be active bystanders (or upstanders) and take a stance against violence.  As active bystanders, we can resist violence and try to help out the victim, even if it’s just calling 911.  Being an active bystander is transforming apathy into action.

Why should you care?  Because if you are committed to ending violence in all of its forms, then you need to realize that every act of violence perpetuates the violence, and doing nothing to stop it or prevent it from escalating enables violence to continue to thrive in society.   If you are committed to ending violence in all of its forms, then you need to realize that every victim of violence is a person too, and they matter.  We are all bystanders of violence at one point or another in life.  We can choose to be active bystanders and do our part in ending our culture of violence, or we can simply sit back and let it happen.


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4 responses

17 04 2009
Jason

…Colour me unsurprised. And as a result, unshocked. (I don’t think you can really be shocked without being surprised, can you?)

I live in England, and a lot of things are better here- and I’ve always had faith in that. Sure, it’s imperfect, but compared to America, murder rates are way down, and racism and sexism are not only far less commonplace, but also illegal, along with general hate speech.

However, when I was a sixteen year old girl, I was mugged and beaten in broad daylight, in the town centre, on a Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t “town centre” enough for the security guards to be around- in fact it was just around the corner from the outer edges of their patrol (and believe me when I say the guys can handle themselves, unlike the American security guard stereotype.) But there were plenty of people around.
However, you have three people- one a not-small, grown man- ganging up and beating down a sixteen year old girl, getting her on the floor and kicking her anywhere they could, and nobody called the police. Nobody. There were many people passing, it was a small parking spot off a main road, and there were lots of cars coming and going- and NOBODY called the police until my then-partner turned up.

I don’t have much faith left in people, or in random bystanders. Nobody wants to get involved and get their hands dirty- not even when a grown man and two grown women are beating up a youth. Why should a raping be any different? I mean- all you have to do is adjust your ignore-o-metre.

(Not that I’m saying they were right- not even remotely. To this day, if I ever saw any level of violence being commited in public, I’d wade right in, and consequences be damned. If I’m willing to throw myself into a physical fight to help others, you’d think people could dial three numbers and ask for police. But I’m unsurprised.)

19 04 2009
feminist2

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I am sorry that you had to go through that. Hearing stories about inactive bystanders who could have done something even if it’s just dialing the cops disgust and sadden me. It is however encouraging to know that there are still people like you and me who understand that we can all play a role in helping to combat this culture of violence we live in.

22 04 2009
Jason

That does, of course, bring up the question- does one have to experience violence, or hatred, or some form of abuse, before they’ll defend others? I’m willing to bet that the VAST majority of poeple who really want to change things, who’ll take steps to do so in their own ways, have been a victim of something themselves.
I’d be very surprised if you were to sit there and tell me that you’ve never had a negative judgement made against you, and that judgement acted upon- because of the highly negative connotations that feminism has. That and, well- we do live in a culture where women are still not treated as equals to men, and they are often insulted, sometimes off-hand and flippantly, and sometimes with real intent to cause pain and discord.

If most people need to have experienced the bad before they stand against it, does that say something against humans? Or against society? Both, perhaps.
I believe society teaches us to be apathetic to the pain of others; except, of course, once we experience that, we can rarely return to apathy. I also believe that without experiencing hardship, a person will almost always be weaker-willed and less strong in who they are and their convictions than someone who has experienced hardship. So it could also be that through experiencing these negative things that should not be present, a person becomes stronger, and thus more able to stand up and make a difference- whether to one person, or to many, or to the laws in place.

…Maybe one day I’ll write a comment that’s not hugely long. I blame you people and your thought-provoking blogging and comments.

25 06 2009
Being an active bystander « The Gender Blender Blog

[…] no one will do anything because someone else will do it instead.  I’ve blogged about this before but it’s worth reiterating, there will always be perpetrators and there will always be […]

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