A bystander is a person who, although present at some event, does not take part in it; an observer or spectator.
The Bystander effect – where the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely that any one of them will intervene
Where does the term come from?
On March 13th 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28 year-old bar manager was stabbed, raped and killed on her way back from work in the early hours of the morning in Queens, New York just yards away from her apartment. Newspaper reports later suggested that up to 38 people witnessed the event, which took place over half an hour and failed to call the police for help. One man, viewing the murder from his third-floor apartment window, stated later that he rushed to turned up his radio so he wouldn’t hear the woman’s screams. Others thought it was a lovers’ quarrel, were afraid or too tired.
US Researchers John M. Darley and Bibb Latané became interested in the behaviour of bystanders and coined the term ‘bystander effect’ following the case of Kitty Genovese.
Hate crime and bystanders
Since the vote to leave the European Union the UK has experienced the highest levels of hate crime since records began, with Nottingham recording the second highest spike in the country with an increase of 70% reports made.
When hate crimes take place there are often bystanders (or witnesses) present who can make a big difference to the situation. Up to 86% of all crimes have witnesses present and often people do not know how to act or intervene safely. However, armed with some basic information, bystanders can make a difference without putting themselves at risk. Bystander interventions offer a practical way of disrupting and countering hate crime and starting to change the way offenders behave. This is particularly the case when most hate motivated situations occur in public spaces and consist mainly of harassment, intimidation and name calling. (obviously if a violent attack or other crime is taking place you need to call the police or for help).
A situation can be defused 50% of the time if an intervention is made within 10 seconds
Why National Bystander Awareness Day?
We felt having a national day was a great way of attracting attention to the role that bystanders can play when other people need help. We aim to promote safe and simple interventions that can support victims, send messages to offenders that their behaviour will not be tolerated and increase the reporting of hate crimes and incidents.
Three safe and simple things you can do:
- Watch, be a witness, don’t turn away as it gives the message to the offender that their behaviour is normal and acceptable.
- Observe and pay attention to what is happening, the description of the offender, where you are, what time it is etc. Once you are in a safe space you can then report the incident as a witness (see the different ways you can report on our Hate Crime Reporting Page and get a copy of our Quick Guide to Reporting Hate Crime). The information you provide could help to catch the offender if there is CCTV or other surveillance systems.
- Check in with the victim. Even if its after the incident to see if they are ok or need any help or support.
Bystanding interventions have recently become an important tool to support victims of domestic and sexual violence and we are leading its application in hate crimes and incidents.
We are offering a half day training around making safe and simple bystander interventions. This is for anyone who wants to build their knowledge and confidence to intervene. Please contact us for further details.