Ethics and Social Responsibility: Gang Rape Raises Questions About Bystanders’ Role and Responsibility

Posted on October 29, 2009

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Note from Rafik Beekun: You are at work late one night, and as you walk out into the parking lot, you see a co-worker from another department being sexually harassed by a manager. Several other co-workers are standing and watching. Do you stand and watch too? Do you keep silent? Do you intervene to stop it? Let us say now that the person being harassed is not just another co-worker, but a friend of yours. Would this additional information make any difference as to your decision whether to intervene or not? What if the person being harassed is a relative of yours?

Islam is very clear on this topic: “Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart – and that is the weakest of faith.” Hadith in al-Bukhari. Unfortunately, many (including Muslims) fall victim to the bystander effect.

cnn.com

CNN) — For more than two hours on a dark Saturday night, as many as 20 people watched or took part as a 15-year-old California girl was allegedly gang raped and beaten outside a high school homecoming dance, authorities said.

As hundreds of students gathered in the school gym, outside in a dimly lit alley where the victim was allegedly raped, police say witnesses took photos. Others laughed.

“As people announced over time that this was going on, more people came to see, and some actually participated,” Lt. Mark Gagan of the Richmond Police Department told CNN.

The witnesses failed to report the crime to law enforcement, Gagan said. The victim remained hospitalized in stable condition. Police arrested five suspects and more arrests were expected.

So why didn’t anyone come forward?

Criminology and psychology experts say there could be a variety of reasons why the crime wasn’t reported. Several pointed to a problematic social phenomenon known as the bystander effect. It’s a theory that has played out in lynchings, college riots and white-collar crimes.

Under the bystander effect, experts say that the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less will get done.

“If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm.” explains Drew Carberry, a director at the National Council on Crime Prevention.

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