Controlling the Bystander Effect - for Rescuing a Victim

Crime-Safety-Security.com Newsletter


As Castleton State College instructor Linda Wiggin was being beaten to death in her Rutland VT home by her boyfriend, David Denny, at least one neighbor heard her repeated cries for help. Yet no one called police until days later.

A group of onlookers to a criminal act often imitate the actions of their fellow bystanders. And most onlookers don't believe what they are seeing – or are shocked into inaction.

Bystander Effect (also known as Bystander Apathy) toward strangers has been part of social dynamics ever since crowds of strangers have gathered.

When a bystander is alone, s/he is more likely to help a stranger somehow. But responsibility is diffused when a bystander is in a group of others – so few will take any action. And each one is more likely to minimize the danger when they see no one else taking action. People assume that someone else is more qualified than they are to help. But a friend of the victim, of course, is much more likely to intervene.

Bystanders hesitate to put themselves in danger because they’re uncertain of whether they’re willing to risk their lives to save a stranger. And they’re uncertain of how to intervene effectively.

The best way for a victim to get help in an emergency is to be specific when calling for help. Instead of expecting a spellbound crowd to act, point specifically at one person and say “Hey, you, call the police.”

To step in and help someone, or to challenge an intimidating thug, requires an instant decision - and that might be a decision you need to think about before you face it. Would you risk your life to help a stranger?

Learn more about this thorny issue at Rescuing a Victim Safely and The Kitty Genovese Syndrome

Enhancing Your Options

Deter a criminal with Pepper Spray & a Personal Security Alarm (noisemaker or screamer). And those pages show how to use them most effectively.


Crime-Safety-Security > Newsletter Archive > newsletter-24-Mar-09