10 Notorious Cases of the Bystander Effect
The bystander effect is the somewhat controversial name given to a social psychological phenomenon in cases where individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present. The probability of help has in the past been thought to be inversely proportional to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. This list describes the prototype of the effect and cites nine particularly heinous examples.
First, the prototype of the bystander effect. Jesus tells a story to a lawyer, who, in all other ways, is blameless and upright in God’s eyes. He obeys the Ten Commandments, and loves his neighbor as himself. But he asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus then explains, with the following parable, that everyone is everyone’s neighbor, and that help should be offered to anyone in need of it, regardless of who or what that person is.
A Jew is going along the road, and is beset by bandits, who beat him severely, strip his clothes, and rob him. They leave him for dead. Later, a priest walks by. He sees the Jew, moves to the other side of the road, and walks by without helping. Later, a Levite goes by, sees him, and gives him a wide berth, going on without helping.
Later, a Samaritan (considered by the Jews to be outcasts) comes by, sees him, and immediately helps him, taking him to a nearby inn, caring for him, and paying the innkeeper.
“Which of these is the neighbor of the Jew who is beaten by robbers?” Jesus asked.
“The merciful one,” replied the lawyer.
“Go and do likewise.”
In the following nine examples, no one goes and does likewise.
From the 10th to the 11th of Janury, 1992, 12-year-old Shanda Sharer was abducted and tortured by four teenage girls, Laurie Tackett, Melinda Loveless (a propo), Hope Rippey, and Toni Lawrence. Tackett was more or less the leader of the four, and interested the others in the Goth lifestyle, punk rock, vampirism, witchcraft, Satanism, lesbianism, and such, and devised the plan for abducting Sharer and stabbing her to death, out of revenge for stealing Loveless’s girlfriend.
They abducted Sharer from her house just after midnight, pretending to take her to see their mutual friend, Amanda Heavrin, the girlfriend Loveless believed Sharer to have stolen. As soon as she was in the car, Loveless put a knife to her throat and interrogated her about Heavrin, until they arrived at “the Witch’s Castle,” a local run-down house where teenagers liked to hang out.
They took her inside, tied her up and discuss how they would kill her, at which point Sharer started crying. They claim to have been frightened by passing headlights, so they took her to a nearby landfill in thick woods, where Loveless beat her savagely with her fists. Lawrence and Rippey claim to have wanted out of the situation by this point, but did not dare try to run and call the police.
Loveless then tried to cut Sharer’s throat but the knife was too dull. Rippey then got out, had Loveless and Tackett hold her down, and strangled her with a rope. They thought she was dead and threw in the trunk, then went to Tackett’s home to wash up. They heard Sharer screaming, and Tackett went out with a kitchen knife and returned covered in blood. The screaming had stopped.
She then took out her runes, part of the Wicca lifestyle, and told the girls’ futures. They then Tackett and Loveless went joyriding from 2:30 AM, while Lawrence and Rippey stayed at her home. Sharer began struggling to get out of the trunk, so Tackett stopped, and beat her unconscious with a tire iron.
They returned a little before dawn, washed up again, and Tackett laughed as she told what she had done. They left and went to a neighborhood burning area, where leaves and limbs, etc., are disposed of, and showed Sharer, nearly dead in the trunk to the others. Lawrence claimed to have been so disgusted that she turned away. She still refused to rat out her friends. Tackett sprayed Sharer with Windex, probably to exacerbate her wounds, and taunted her, “You’re not looking so hot, now, are you?”
They then filled a 2-liter Pepsi bottle with gasoline at a nearby station, drove to a secluded field, laid Sharer, alive, in a blanket in the grass, doused and set her afire. Loveless returned a moment later and poured the rest of the gasoline on her, to be sure.
Lawrence was scared to death by this point, and finally called a friend of the same age, and told her what had happened. She refused to call the police, now out of fear as an accomplice. Loveless strangled became hysterical, sorry about what she had done, and called Amanda Heavrin to tell her. Heavrin did not believe them, until she and another friend saw the trunk of Tackett’s car with blood and Sharer’s socks.
None of them called the police. Sharer’s body as discovered by two hunters earlier that morning, the 11th, and reported. By 8:00 PM that night, the whole community knew, and Loveless finally confessed in a fit of hysteria to the police. Tackett, Loveless, and Rippey were sentenced to 60 years in prison, Lawrence 20 years. Lawrence was released on good behavior in 2000, Rippey in 2006.
Ilan Halimi was a French Jew who was kidnapped in Paris by Moroccan “barbarians,” as they like to be called, on Janury 21, 2006, and tortured for 24 days, finally dying on February 13. During this time, his kidnappers, at least 20 of them, beat him all over his body, especially his testicles, completely wrapped his head in duct tape, except for his mouth, so he could breathe and eat, stabbed him, burned his body and face with lighters and cigarettes, and broke his fingers in order to extract a ransom of 450,000 Euros from his family. They stripped him, they scratched him, they cut him with knives, and finally poured gasoline on him and set him afire.
During these three weeks, neighbors in the apartment block where his kidnappers had taken him (and where they lived) heard the commotion and came to watch. No one ever called the police. 27 people have so far been charged with joining in. 19 people have been convicted and given long prison sentences. One of the torturer’s fathers knew what was happening and did nothing to stop them. This man, Alcino Ribeiro, was sentenced to 8 months, but this sentence was suspended. He has served no time.
Those neighbors known only to have watched were not convicted, most not even indicted. Halimi was found handcuffed and bound with nylon rope, naked, to a tree about 40 yards inside a woodlot from a railway outside Paris, on February 13. More than 80% of his body had been burned with acid, as well as gasoline, to the point that he was difficult to recognize. He had severe contusions, blood blisters, and hematomas covering most of his body, to the point that he was more blue than flesh-colored, multiple broken bones, one ear and one big toe missing, and his testicles looked like “blackened oranges.”
Halimi died en route to a hospital.
Not just Topsy the Elephant, but a rather long series of animals, all of which had shown themselves to be a danger to humans. This included horses, lions, tigers, and bears. Edison was happy to oblige the state of NY in executing these “menaces to society,” by employing alternating current, but his ulterior motive was merely to show the world the danger of alternating current, invented by Nikola Tesla, his arch-rival. Edison’s direct current didn’t have the strength to electrocute an elephant, and he considered it safer.
So, on January 4, 1903, at Luna Park Zoo, Coney Island, Topsy was hooked up to Edison’s lighting plant, and electrocuted with 6,600 volts of AC. But this was after they fed her carrots that had been soaked in cyanide, just to be sure. They deemed Topsy to be a permanent threat to humans, as she had killed three handlers in three incidents, one of which involved a handler, who regularly whipped her, trying to feed her a lighted cigarette just to watch her suffer. She stomped on him.
1,500 people watched, and no one said a word in complaint. Edison filmed it, and the film is available on YouTube, if you feel like being outraged. The funny thing is that the ASPCA, which is supposed to protect the rights of animals, considered hanging to be cruel, as it would cause strangulation, not a snap of the neck, and yet had no problem with cyanide poisoning and electrocution.
Kevin Carter was a South African Photojournalist who, in March 1993, took the most infamous photograph, so far, of the brutality and disregard for human suffering in sub-Saharan Africa. The photo shows a female Sudanese toddler, alone and severely emaciated, attempting to crawl to an aid station for food. A vulture is standing on the ground behind her, waiting for her to die so it can eat her.
Carter claimed that he waited 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, which he thought would make a better picture, and when it didn’t, he took the picture as is. For those 20 minutes, the toddler had to rest before resuming its trip. She whimpered and panted, and Carter did nothing to help her.
He took the picture, scared the vulture away, then left the girl to continue crawling on her own. No one knows what became of her, but it very likely that she starved to death. This account is denied by Joao Silva, a journalist friend of Carter, who stated that the child’s parents left for only a moment to take food from a plane. Either way, Carter claimed later that he just “didn’t want to get involved.” He killed himself the next year, after winning the Pulitzer for this photograph, by carbon monoxide poisoning, in his truck in Johannesburg.
This was not a single incident, but all the major crimes against the Indians were perpetrated for the same reason. European settlers and their descendants wanted more land. They thus drove the Indians westward, killing hundreds of thousands over the centuries, in order to make way for themselves. Unfortunately, no land is ever enough land. They wanted more, and the Indians continued being deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The most astonishing aspect of this crime is that many notable Americans, especially Andrew Jackson, considered it righteous, as the Indians did not have the military strength to defend themselves, and thus deserved to lose their rights. Survival of the fittest, so to speak. Jackson is the man most directly responsible for the “Trail of Tears” relocation of the Cherokee. Later, the Navajo and Sioux, to name just two large tribes, were slaughtered in outright warfare.
Very few Europeans or their descendants, from 1585 with the Lost Colony, to the turn of the 20th Century, ever raised much of a fuss, if any at all, over this disgustingly awesome mistreatment of an entire race of humans.
If you’ve seen the film “Mississippi Burning” you’re familiar with the murders of James Chaney (black), Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman (both white, Jewish). The White Knights of the KKK shot them dead and buried them in an earthen dam in 1964. The outrage in the northern half or so of the United States was immediate and fierce, as it should have been.
But there was no public outcry of any kind in the South. Very few black people, especially in Mississippi, had anything to say about the crime, as they didn’t dare incur the wrath of the white authorities. But the truly astonishing aspect is the absence of an outcry by many white people, if any, as they either agreed with the crime, or just didn’t care about the plight of blacks (and Jews, and anyone other than “WASPs”) in the South.
Racial hatred had become so rampant and impudent that the Judges who presided over the various criminals of this sort of case rarely convicted them, and then imposed the lightest sentences. The culprits of the three 1964 murders, 17 of them, were tried, and only 7 were convicted, not of murder, but of “civil rights violations,” because the prosecution didn’t believe they could be convicted, in Mississippi, of murder, which was probably true. The harshest sentences were 10 years each to two culprits. Others received 7 years, or 3 years. No one served more than 6.
The most infamous example of the bystander effect took place on March 13, 1964, in Kew Gardens, Queens, NY, when Catherine Genovese was entering her apartment building at about 3:15 AM, from work. She was stabbed twice in the back by Winston Moseley, a heavy machine operator, who later explained that he simply “wanted to kill a woman.”
Genovese screamed, “Oh, my God! He stabbed me! Help me!” and collapsed. Several neighbors in surrounding buildings reported hearing her voice, but decided it was probably just a drunken brawl or lovers’ spat. One man shouted from his window, “Let that girl alone!” which scared Moseley away.
This neighbor was sure to have seen Genovese crawling across the street, under a streetlight, to her apartment, but did nothing to help her. Witnesses saw Moseley drive away, then return about 10 minutes later. He had put on a wider-rimmed hat to hide his face, and searched for Genovese in the parking lot, the train station, and the apartment complex, for 10 minutes, before finding her prone in the external hallway at the rear of the building, where the door was locked. She could not get in.
Moseley proceeded to stab her to death, inflicting multiple wounds in her hands and forearms, indicating that she tried to fight him off. She finally succumbed and he raped her as she lay dying. He then stole around $50 from her and fled. The whole incident spanned 30 minutes.
A newspaper blasted it the next day as “Thirty-eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” but this is inaccurate. There were approximately 12 people who claimed to have seen the first attack. Many of them later stated that they “just didn’t want to get involved.” A simple phone call to the police would have sufficed, but everyone assumed someone else would do it.
The events that transpired on the night of October 27, 2009 inspired me to compile this list and I admit that it has caused me to reconsider the crime of the #1 entry.
The girl’s name has not been released to date, as she is 15 years old, but the accounts of the crime all agree, and it is beyond belief. For 2 and a half hours, while the High School Homecoming Dance was taking place inside the gymnasium, approximately 10 men gang-raped the 15-year-old student, beating her savagely the whole time, all the while 10 others stood around laughing and taking pictures with their cell phones.
The crowd eventually numbered more than 20, and no one called the police. No one went inside to tell a security guard or a policeman, several of which were on campus at the time. A little earlier, the assistant principal looked out his office window and saw 12 to 15 grown men sitting around near the scene of the crime, none of whom had identification badges, as is required, and none of whom appeared to be a teenager, and the assistant principal did not call the police, or alert any teachers or students. He returned to his job and ignored them.
The girl is still in critical condition at a hospital, having been found later by someone leaving the dance.
The most repugnant, globally violent disgrace of the reputation of humanity gave rise to the equally infamous use of the phrase “diffusion of responsibility,” as the Nazi officers tried at Nuremberg all claimed the same defense, “We were just following orders.”
They argued that if the Holocaust really was as bad as journalists were saying, then someone else must surely have known of it, and thus it was not necessarily their responsibility to report it to the authorities.
They also argued that the only authorities in Continental Europe at the time were German, and thus, they would only have killed themselves by attempting to inform the outside world, and would have accomplished nothing. This is not true. Most of the German population knew nothing of it, but had they, they could easily have banded together and demanded that the Holocaust be stopped. The Nazis would have been reluctant to exterminate their own “master race,” and by that point, the Allies would have heard news of it. So the Nazis wisely concealed the concentration and death camps from all but the small villages nearest to them.
The Holocaust achieves #1, however, because the populations of the villages near these camps, Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, and Ravensbruck, to name a few, knew perfectly well of the atrocities and horror inside the camps. The camps were established near fairly large towns and cities, the inhabitants of which could not have ignored the stench coming from them. Allied soldiers all reported smelling camps before finding them, from as far as 20 miles if the wind blew right.
The Allies accused the German citizens of these towns of knowing full well what was happening to Jews and other “undesirables” and yet making no effort to save one life. These German populations were thus forced to clean up the emaciated corpses and bury them in mass graves, as punishment for their passivity.