In my Emily Stone Series, my protagonist is a woman who has made the decision to get involved when she knows a crime is being committed. Emily Stone uses her intelligence, her intuition, and a few helpful pieces of technology to track the most dangerous predators in our society. She does all of this work anonymously, and forwards the evidence and entire investigation for the local police department before moving onto her next case. Well, it doesn’t always go the way as planned.
What about people who make the decision NOT to get involved? We have all read or heard about instances in which horrifying crimes were taking place and bystanders did nothing to stop the violence.
There was an incident in which a teenage girl was gang raped for more than two hours outside of her high school homecoming dance in Richmond, California. More than two dozen people witnessed the attacks and did not bother to call the police. The media reports were everywhere—what is wrong with our young people today that they can be so callous and apathetic when a heinous crime is being committed in front of their very eyes? There have been many of these cases reported, including a famous New York case of Kitty Genovese.
The decision to not get involved when you see a crime taking place is known as the bystander effect, which is broken down in two major factors. It is a term developed within the field of social psychology and it refers to the hesitancy of a person to take action during an emergency situation when other people are present. Sometimes, we assume that another person will help, especially when the situation is chaotic.
In other instances, the bystander effect can occur because we are waiting to see how other observers react and, as a result, no one acts at all. This behavior represents the need to act in a correct and socially acceptable way.
Doesn’t this really mean that we all should take responsibility? Everyone should have an idea of what should be done in case you are in need of assistance or if someone else needs our help. If you take the bystander effect in another perspective, wouldn’t it be the same if you see anything that is wrong, i.e. work related, school, politics, etc. that we should step up? Are we becoming a society of victims suffering from the bystander effect?
Do you know that you would act if you saw some being violently attacked?
Are there circumstances in which you would hesitate?
Research and Writing Tip:
Think about a bystander effect situation that you have personally witnessed or have seen in the news. Dissect it and make a list of everything that happened. Use key descriptive words to describe the event. Make a list of things that you want to research further: such as psychology, crime stats, penal codes on specific crimes, etc. You will then be able to incorporate a portion of the bystander effect or the entirety into your novel.
You can tag along with Emily Stone in a “live-action” novel short to see what she does when someone is in trouble:
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