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.