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FOX 13 News 360: The Bystander Effect

Posted at 10:33 PM, Jul 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 00:33:20-04

A kidnapping caught on video at a Utah convenience store on June 26 is now been viewed over 2 million times online.

The woman seen in the video is now safe, and the suspect — her former boyfriend — has been arrested.

But many who have seen the video were left stunned that the bystanders didn’t appear to come to her aid.

Liz Sollis from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition says the safest thing a person can do is call 911.

“I think it’s easy to say, ‘I would have done this, they should have done that’ when you’re facing a crisis," she said. " What you think you would do and what you do are very different things.”

The video has no audio, but witnesses later told police the woman was yelling for help. She even ran toward one man filling up his truck with gas. Nobody intervened as the man she was running from grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder.

“We know the bystander effect is real, and it’s depressing,” said Kayleigh Bronson-Cook with Canyon Creek Services, which addresses domestic and sexual violence in the greater Cedar City area. “People think they need to jump in and start doing CPR or jump in between somebody about to punch somebody in the face, and it does not have to be that extreme.”

Those who study the bystander effect say the more witnesses there are, the less likely they are to do something. But if one person takes action, others are likely to join in.

Bronson-Cook says how to intervene and help safely should be your first concern, adding that a quick safety inventory could guide you in a similar situation. Are you safe? Will you continue to be safe if you intervene? Could you get help from others?

“Somebody calling the police is an act of bystander intervention. Just because they’re not trying to pull this woman off of the man doesn’t mean they’re not doing something," she said.

In this instance, information provided to police helped make the arrest.

“There’s a balance there as to how and when to intervene,” retired Unified Deputy Police Chief Chris Bertram said.

Bertram added that if you overreact in a situation like this, you could further amplify the incident, adding that it’s hard for bystanders to know the whole picture.

“If you overreact in a situation like this where we think it’s a kidnapping but it's just a prank or a boyfriend and a girlfriend horsing around and I react in maybe a way by using force or even deadly force, then I’m going to be held responsible not just civilly, but from a criminal standpoint. You’ve also got to be very cautious in those situations," he said.

There are examples of people intervening only to end up becoming victims themselves. According to charging documents, 34-year-old Melissa Wood was stabbed to death in the courtyard of her Murray apartment complex by a 16-year-old boy she was confronting for his use of racial slurs.

Shelly Heyrend is the prevention and education director for CAPSA in Logan, confronting domestic violence and supporting rape recovery in Cache and Rich counties.

“Nine times out of 10, you’re going to kick yourself if you don’t help," she said.

Heyrend says there is training for this kind of thing called “Upstanding” that Utah developed.

The training advises you to direct attention to the situation, delegate others to help, or create a distraction.

Experts say these are steps that are more effective early on.

“We have bystander blaming taking place. We should be asking why the individual who committed the abuse was committing the abuse," Solis added.

For more on Upstanding training, click here. And if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence you can find help and resources here.