Saturday, June 23, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 16

Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on January 28th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 47 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 47

Don't be a silent bystander

Everyone can say or do something when faced with violence



What’s the first thing you think of when you read that word? According to Merriam-Webster, a bystander is a person who is standing near but not taking part in what is happening. Chances are, at some point in our lives, we have all been a bystander to some event. Perhaps it was something you saw on a subway ride. Or possibly something you heard on a playground, or even at  your place of work. No matter what the circumstance, as bystanders, each of us can actively make a difference. Why don’t more people take action? What happens to us that we either freeze in fear or turn away because we don’t want to get involved? Unfortunately, people who perpetrate crimes against others know this about human nature, and this is what we must change in order to send a message loud and clear that violence in any form will not be tolerated in the communities we live and work in.

There are a variety of reasons why people don’t get involved. Fear, for one, is an immobilizing agent, but we must get stronger so that we can stand up to that fear. Think for a moment about a lazy Sunday afternoon spent basking in the glow of the warm California sun at Waller Park with your family. The kids are happily playing on the swings, but off in the not-so-far distance you can see a couple arguing. That gut feeling that you get when you know something doesn’t feel right is creeping in as you see the argument escalating, and then you see one person slap the other. Our initial thought might be to ignore it—after all, everyone argues. Would you react? Would you look away as if nothing happened? In an instant you are contemplating becoming involved, but out of fear you may shy away and do nothing.

The fact is, we all make decisions based on what the reactions of others may be. For example, why don’t people belch loudly in restaurants? The answer is simple: Based on our social interactions, the expectations of others, and what cultural conditioning and norms have taught us through the subtle reactions of others, we know that belching in public is not acceptable. Why is it we have made such things as belching socially unacceptable, but have not done the same with violence? Why do we make excuses for perpetrators by saying that the victim asked for it, minimizing the contact by trying to excuse it as consensual, blaming the way the victim was dressed, how much she had to drink, or where she was? Blaming the victim in order to minimize the actions of a perpetrator is unacceptable, just as sexual assault and child abuse are unacceptable.

We have heard a lot about sexual assault cases making national news. Places like Stuebenville, Maryville, and Hamburg. We’ve heard about the “epidemic” of sexual assault in the military. Think for a moment about all of those cases you’ve read about. What’s the common theme? The answer is simple. Each of them had the common denominator of a bystander. Someone who was around who could have possibly prevented an assault. Why didn’t these people act? Why didn’t they intervene? We may never know the answer to these questions, but we can act now to change the trajectory for the future and change the way we approach potentially violent situations.

The philosophy and strategy behind bystander intervention is simple and can be applied to various types of violence. At the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, we like to educate on how being an active bystander can help in the prevention of bullying, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. Many people ask how they can prevent a sexual assault, when typically, the assault happens between two people who know each other, there are only two players involved, and there are no witnesses to the crime. When a person takes a step back and looks at the big picture and the acts or actions that led up to the sexual assault, chances are there were many signals an active bystander could have clued in on and potentially acted upon that may have helped prevent the assault.

Bystander intervention is about tiny pushes by those of us who wish to eliminate any form of violence in our communities. Truth is, the good guys outnumber the bad guys, and we have the power to unite that they don’t have. You may not be ready to ride in with your cape blowing in the wind to save the day, but perhaps you can delegate someone else to do so by involving others such as calling the police. Perhaps you have the type of personality that’s direct and you feel capable of stepping in yourself to change the course, or perhaps you’d rather distract the potential offender so that the intended target can get away. No matter which way you look at it or choose to react, you can make a difference. Think about what your role is.

The North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center encourages you to know more so that you can do more, with the hope that eventually there is no more sexual assault and child abuse occurring in our communities. If you would like more information on how you can get involved, please call us. Volunteers are our lifeblood, and many of the programs that we conduct in our community could not exist without the generosity of our donors and our volunteers.

The center will be starting volunteer advocate training in a few weeks in Lompoc, and we also sponsor bystander intervention and self-defense trainings throughout the North County. If you’d like more information, please give us a call at 736-8535 or 922-2994.

If you are a survivor and you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please call our hotline; advocates are available 24/7 and can be reached at 736-7273 or 928-3554. There is help out there, and we are ready to give it.


Ann McCarty is associate director of the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center. Send comments to the executive editor at

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