Bystander Effect Influences Rape Victim

A few weeks ago, a big story circulating the news was about the rape committed by two teenage boys in Steubenville, Ohio. They were both found guilty and sentenced to time in juvenile jail. A large reason the story received national attention is because of the use of social media to spread not only the story of what happened, but also pictures of the victim lying naked on a basement floor and videos of her drunk. Spreading these images and videos can be considered offenses such as failure to report a felony, failure to report child abuse, or obstruction of justice. Although the crime of rape (and then sending nude pictures of the victim) is a terrible crime, what some people have a harder time understanding is how others could sit by and watch and/or continue to spread the image without reporting it.


Some of this may be due to a social psychological term called the bystander effect. According to Kenrick, Neuberg, & Cialdini (2010), this is when the presence of other people prevents the group from helping the victim. The larger the group, the less people help. One reason this happens is caused by the diffusion of responsibility. Diffusion of responsibility is when an individual within a group feels less responsible for what’s going on because there are several others that share this responsibility with them. They may therefore feel that someone else in the group has already called for help or that if no one’s doing anything, it must not be that serious. A recent survey found that when asked about witnessing dating violence or sexual assault, 53% would find it difficult to interfere and 40% would have no idea what to do. Whether we like to admit it or not, we greatly value the opinion of others and put effort into trying to fit in with the group, even if this is detrimental to someone else.


This may somewhat help explain why so many people stood around and watched this horrible crime happen, although it’s definitely not a justification. The status of the two offenders, both on the highly regarded football team, may have also prevented others from speaking up or reporting the incident. This fear was slightly validated by the threats the victim received following the announcement of a guilty verdict. Two girls sent tweets to the victim threatening her life and safety. Fortunately, these girls were both arrested and charged with misdemeanors.


Although the use of social media is probably the only reason the victim was able to report the rape (she didn’t remember any of it), it can also cause problems, like the threats previously mentioned and other negative comments. It’s important that the victim receives support. If this doesn’t happen, not only will she have a harder time dealing with the trauma, but it may also deter other rape victims from coming forth with their own instances.


Even though the bystander effects happens pretty frequently in all kinds of situations, I hope that this case will show others that this horrible rape could have been avoided if someone would have just stepped up and taken care of the victim. It’s likely that even though they may have suffered minor consequences at the time of the event, they wouldn’t feel the guilt they most likely feel now and the victim wouldn’t be suffering the way she is. The benefits greatly outweigh the costs, even if it doesn’t seem so at the time. A new organization, called NO MORE, is aimed at educating young people about different forms of abuse and ways to prevent and fight it. Organizations like this can be helpful at increasing awareness in hopes to decrease tragedies like what happened in Steubenville, Ohio.


Posted on April 16, 2013, in Community, Psychological Concepts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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