On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed and sexually assaulted in front of multiple witnesses (Manning, Levine & Collins, 2007). The attack went on for around thirty minutes, but not a single person intervened. The police were notified only after the attack had ended, and Kitty had died. Why did no one help? Why do some bystanders not offer help in an emergency?
Kitty’s story is a classic example of the bystander effect, or more specifically, bystander apathy. Bystander apathy typically involves diffusion of responsibility, which is the tendency to assume that one does not have to act because someone else will. The larger the group, the more likely it is that diffusion of responsibility will occur. Perceived consequences of bystander intervention may also impact whether or not a person will help. Social context matters, as well. People are much more likely to respond to members of their own ingroup, and much less likely to respond to out-group members. It’s classic us vs. them reasoning.
In the Mandt System program we explore, how does this impact professionals? In educational or human service settings, a person may not respond to bullying because of fear of repercussions, diffusion of responsibility, or in-group/out-group dynamics. In administrative settings, workplace bullying may go unchecked because of fear of retaliation.
What can we do to minimize the bystander effect? There are generally five stages that an individual will go through in making the decision to help (Latane & Darley, 1968). Organizations can minimize the bystander effect by creating the right supports for employees in each of the five stages. The five stages are:
1. Notice that something is happening. For an organization to manage this stage, situational awareness is key. Are we covering the right zones? Do our policies and procedures and training address the areas of risk in our work environment?
2. Interpret the situation as an emergency. Are our employees trained to assess threats and recognize hazards and emergencies?
3. Degree of responsibility felt. Are our employees well versed in the mission of the organization. Do their values reflect the values of the organization? Do our employees see the inherent value in the life of all human beings?
4. Forms of Assistance. Does the employee know how to help? Do they understand when direct assistance is necessary or the protocols for indirect assistance such as calling 911? Are our employees competent to respond to the emergency? Do they have the right training? Do they understand their responsibilities as a professional?
5. Implement action. Are our employees supported with every reasonable means available to keep them safe while they respond? Are there debriefing/processing procedures in place to support the individuals involved in the emergency after the cessation of the emergency?
John Windsor – Mandt System Faculty