In the New Testament book of Luke, one of Jesus' most famous parables is recounted: the Good Samaritan. As you'll recall, passersby completely neglect the victim before someone totally unexpected eventually comes to the victim's aid.
Like you, I am appalled after hearing of the horrible incident that took place in Richmond, California recently. If you are not familiar with the story, a 15-year-old girl was gang raped behind her high school following the homecoming dance. What made the story so much more sensational was the fact none of the onlookers, who numbered a dozen or so, reportedly did anything to assist the girl. In fact, it has been widely reported that not only did the bystanders not intervene, they allegedly took video of the incident with their mobile phones.
Invariably, I am scratching my head in wonderment. This is not the first time a seemingly horrific crime has taken place and no bystander comes forward to assist the victim. Just recently, a young teenager in Chicago was beaten to death by thugs apparently over the fact that he had made a choice NOT to join a gang. All this took place as fellow classmates looked on. A little over a year ago, witnesses in Hartford, Connecticut observed a hit and run driver strike a gentleman as he was attempting to cross a street. Apparently no one came forward to help the badly injured victim, not even to hold his hand before medical personnel could arrive on the scene. It was reported that help came in the form of a police patrol on its way to another incident.
Perhaps the most infamous incident occurred in the mid-1960s in New York City when a woman named Kathy Genovese was raped and murdered. Witnesses could clearly hear her screams, but no one made an attempt to summon help.
In each scenario, the prevailing attitude appears to be one of assuming the other guy or gal will step up and do the right thing. While the media attitude has been mostly one of disdain (perhaps even class or ethnic elitism) as well as an assumption of desensitization to criminal acts, there has to be something deeper here, doesn't there? Psychologists call this phenomena "group or crowd dynamics." As I researched this subject I came across a great explanation of it
Put yourself in this position. You come across this scene of a man sprawled out in the middle of the road with people looking at him, but no one helping him. Your expectation is that if this were a real accident people would be helping the victim, but because they are not, this can't be a real accident. And so you wait to get more information; adding to the number of onlookers taking no action to help, which just sets up the same dynamic in the next person who happens upon this scene.
It takes one or more of the following three attributes for a person to go against the crowd's behavior. Authority, special training, or specific knowledge.
The incident of the rape of the teen allows me to be introspective. Never mind I have a daughter who is nearly the same age as the rape victim, but briefly listening to commentary from experts and having a limited knowledge on the behavior of crowds, cause me to think of what I would do in such a situation? I ask that question because it is easy to sit back and armchair it and proclaim how had we been present we would have intervened in some fashion. Maybe it's true. But I am also quite certain many of the witnesses in the aforementioned incidents would also likely have thought of themselves as somehow above the fray and claimed they too would never stand idly by as someone else is victimized by a crime.
Now, if the reports are true that young people in Richmond not only did not assist the rape victim, but actually chronicled the crime, it definitely seems horrifying. However, it scares me to think that I too could take what appears to be a callous attitude towards someone who is a victim of a crime - especially when we do not realize the attitude is callous until well after the incident has run its course. Research shows we are all susceptible to crowd mentality. I would like to think I am above that. But what if I am not? It's definitely something to think about.
My heart goes out the victim and her family.
Well, I gotta scoot...