succumbing to peer pressure

Saturday, July 01, 2006

This passage from an editorial in the NY Times about public harrassment/molestation

I once saw two men arguing on an Athens street; when one raised his hand to strike, he was immediately restrained by a passer-by.

This incident may help explain another Greek woman's account of a strange man who followed her and then approached with unwanted advances. She told me: "I yelled and I gave him a strong smack. He had become so enraged that he jumped at me and he wanted to hit me," but a man who happened to be standing close by "intervened and cursed him and he left." Would she have risked enraging a stranger if she were less confident that another stranger would leap to her aid?

coupled with this first-person story about stalking and an abusive relationship and Dr. B's reaction to said story about the lack of intervention on the part of strangers, has me thinking about the Bystander Effect. The stalking story takes place in Paris, and on at least two occasions the woman shouts for help in a public place, and at least the second time she witnesses people look right at her and her situation and do nothing (the first time she's yelling from within an apartment, so although she suspects that the neighbors can hear her and do nothing, she has no evidence). How is this possible? We learned about the Bystander Effect in psych 101 (the standard example is a stabbing victim in the 60s, whose assault lasted for 30 minutes, well within the view of numerous witnesses, none of whom did anything, not even call the police) but the psychology behind it still eludes me. They say that knowing about this effect makes you less likely to fall prey to it, so maybe my early awareness shapes my reaction, but I just can't imagine witnessing any sort of public attack and failing to act in even the tiniest of ways. Sure, no one wants to be a 'bother,' but does this seriously outweigh the possibility that a fellow person is being harmed? And sure, there's the possibility of misinterpreting a situation, but aren't the consequences of that much less severe than of inaction if the situation really is dangerous? And yes, there's the self-preservation instinct, but ducking out of site and calling 911 is hardly risky behavior. I just don't get it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, doesn't the bystander effect require a fairly anonymous group?

In the Greek woman's story, we have no idea if there's a group of people around or just a single non-involved person. If there's just one, the likelihood of getting involved grows significantly.

Plus, the fact that she's Greek may play into it... if the involved stranger is also Greek but recognizes that shared heritage, it becomes more likely that he'd get involved. We minorities have a decent degree of solidarity, and tend to recognize our own through word of mouth and shared cultural experiences, even if we don't actually know each other.

I'm just looking for more details, I guess, before I go looking for any correlation in variables.


12:46 PM  
Blogger A White Bear said...

When a friend dislocated his shoulder last week while we were playing ball, we called 911 to get an ambulance. I was supposed to flag the ambulance down on the one-way 3.5-mile loop around the park, quite a distance from where we were playing ball. I had pulled a muscle pretty badly and was afraid I wouldn't make it to the road in time. I saw an emergency vehicle go past, and, thinking I was missing our ambulance, yelled, "AMBULANCE! HELP! AMBULANCE! HELP!" and they drove on by.

I was in that really crowded Brooklyn park where we went to that Cohen tribute concert so long ago, and people were standing all around. I kept turning to catch someone's eye, and everyone was looking at the ground and moving away from me. Very eerie.

Perhaps this is apropos of nothing, and I know there are wonderful NYers who will jump in immediately to help someone, but I'd have to recommend not getting into any dangerous situations when all the bougie Brooklynites are out for a pleasant Friday afternoon stroll. They'd rather not get their hands dirty.

1:50 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

The Greek story took place in Greece, so I don't think it was a recognition of a fellow minority thing.

11:29 AM  

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