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Breaking the Silence: Tips for Being an Active Bystander

I try, like the majority of the human population, to find ways to be a good person throughout my everyday life. However, recently, during a sociology class, I realized that simply being a decent person is not enough in uncomfortable or even dangerous situations unless you act. During my class we discussed the infamous case of Kitty Genovese who was brutally stabbed to death close to her apartment building while several of her neighbors, who witnessed the event, did nothing to stop the attack or even contact the authorities. While there is a great deal of dispute revolving around the true nature of the apathy shown by the neighbors, this information floored me. I could rationalize why someone wouldn’t run out to the middle of a dark street to attack an armed person, but I couldn’t understand why no one would call the police. The purpose of this gruesome lesson was to show the danger of the diffusion of responsibility that occurs during an emergency among a crowd of people. This lesson really stuck with me and forced me to think about how I would act in any situation (even those less severe than that of Ms. Genovese) that required action. I would like to say that I would always do the right thing, but having never been placed in such a situation, I actually have no realistic idea of how I would act (or not act). Ms. Genovese’s neighbors were probably not intrinsically bad people, and yet they allowed a woman to lose her life by not actively reacting to the situation and falling prey to the “well somebody else is probably doing something so I don’t have to” mentality.

Just as having an emergency kit with food and water in your house or carrying flares in your car can help you be prepared for the unexpected, learning to be an active bystander can really save lives. There are many resources available on campuses and in communities that can help train you to be an active bystander, but a good guideline for intervening in situations that look potentially dangerous, or uncomfortable are the four D’s. The first D stands for Direct, as in directly stepping into a situation and confronting the perpetrator. This strategy is definitely situationally dependent and should only be employed if you believe you can accomplish it safely. The second D stands for Distraction. This strategy can be employed in a variety of situations, using a variety of different methods as long it accomplishes the purpose of breaking some of the tension or distracting the perpetrator. An example of this would be interrupting the couple who is having a very loud argument in the lobby of your building by asking if either one of them can tell you the time; this kind of distraction can help the potential victim feel more safe, as well as making the perpetrator aware that their actions have not gone unnoticed. The third D, Delegate, is one of the safest methods and is also the friend of the person who hates confrontation. Locating someone in a particular social setting who has more authority than you (such as a police officer, a bouncer, or even group of other individuals around you) can help put an end to a potentially dangerous situation. The final D, which is often overlooked, stands for Delay. This simply means checking in with a person after an incident has been resolved. This strategy has a dual purpose by helping an individual feel safer and as well as ensuring that they will not be drawn back into the same bad situation. The four D’s are useful in most situations that require action, ranging from issues of sexual or racial harassment to helping in a medical emergency. It is really important to speak up and act if you see a potentially harmful situation, by being the first one to act, you are breaking the diffusion of responsibility and are paving the way for others to also react and help. By being an active bystander, you are helping make your community a safer place. Be the person you would want to help if you found yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

Sources: http://thoughtcatalog.com/abbey-fox/2013/07/the-four-ds-of-bystander-intervention-how-to-make-the-world-a-better-place/

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