Please [DON’T] Stand By

We need to talk.

There’s a certain human tendency that is allowing people to continually prey on the vulnerable and exploit them in every way. It’s subtle, and it’s so often subconscious that we rarely consider the tremendous impact it can have.

Picture this:

You’re walking down the road and see a man lying on the sidewalk, obviously in a good deal of pain. Nobody else is around. Do you help him?

What if there are a few people around? Maybe a person wearing scrubs is nearby. Does that change anything? Maybe they know how to help him better, right? Surely they’ll help…

The bystander effect is a phenomenon in which the very presence of other people in an emergency situation causes a lack of action. I know what you’re thinking – having more people around in a situation increases the chances that someone will help, though, right? Actually, the more people present, the less likely someone is to help. So the question remains; do we lose our humanity in the presence of others?

Is our ability to empathize clouded by our desire to act (or not act) similarly to those around us?

There are two main psychological factors that play into this: the idea that someone else has taken or will take action and our natural aversion to being the only one doing something.

Some experts call this tendency to act similarly to the crowd we are in as “pluralistic ignorance” (you can read more on that here). When nobody else is acting, it suddenly becomes much more difficult for a single individual to act. However, when it comes to fighting issues such sexual exploitation, we cannot be concerned with our self-image. Giving a voice to the voiceless means speaking out against their oppressors, and you may be the only one putting up a fight.

So what?

So what if you’re the only one to decide to act? What are we so afraid of? Optimally, this would spark action from others around you, potentially getting a victim the help they need even if you weren’t the most qualified person to do so. At worst, deciding to act means letting someone know they have someone fighting for them.

There is so much exploitation in today’s culture. For it to cease to exist, we cannot stand by and assume someone else will help. If we continue to pass off responsibility of the world’s issues to the next person, we will never see the end of sexual assault, human trafficking, or any other issue for that matter.


Abby Shrewsbury

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