Most people think that if they were being attacked by a violent criminal, anyone who noticed what was going on would rush to their defense. Sadly, current evidence seems to indicate that bystanders may not come to your aid if you are attacked. There’s not always a hero in the crowd, and all signs seem to point to a complete lack of heroes. The dismal possibility that a stranger may come to your aid is sometimes referred to as the “Bystander Effect” and sometimes as the “Genovese Effect.”
This effect is named after Kitty Genovese a young woman who was stabbed to death in 1964 by a convicted rapist. The murder of Genovese took approximately half an hour, during which time nearly forty witnesses did not step in to help. Current analysis of the murder claims that the media may have exaggerated the number of witnesses in an effort to sell papers, but the fact remains that a large group of people stood by as a young woman was murdered.
Other examples of the so-called “Bystander Effect” occasionally make it into the public eye. In 2010, Hugo Alfredo-Yax attempted to help a woman who was being attacked. Alfredo-Yax was stabbed and left to die on a sidewalk in New York. At least twenty people walked past him before he died of his wounds.
In 1990, a researcher set out to determine whether bystanders were likely to come to the aid of a stranger. His tests took place in 36 different cities across the U.S. New York, perhaps not surprisingly, was ranked the least-likely city in which a citizen would come to a stranger’s aid. The cities found to be friendliest or most helpful were smaller or suburban towns in the Southeast.
Psychologists have noted several reasons for this phenomenon. Some people, for example, may feel that it “isn’t their problem” and that they shouldn’t get involved. Others may fear putting themselves in danger. An individual lacking first-aid training may not feel prepared or qualified to come to the aid of an injured stranger.
What the Bystander Effect shows us is that we cannot rely on others to help us in our time of need. That is why it is so essential to prepare yourself with pepper spray, a stun gun, or a similar self defense device. Even if there are crowds of people standing around as you’re being attacked, it will probably be up to you to escape unharmed.
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