COLUMN: Don't let the bystander effect keep you from doing the right thing


When the news first came out about Larry Nassar, like anyone with a conscience, I was horrified. 

As news continued to pour out about the situation, I became even more horrified at how many times it could have been stopped but wasn’t — how many could have been saved from such trauma. 

It’s easy to look at someone like Nassar and say he’s evil because most people will never come close to doing something so unspeakably vile. However, many of us at some point have seen something unjust and wondered if we should do something, only to take the convenient route and turn away. 

Around campus, I’ve seen signs advocating for sexual assault awareness that read, “I wish I had said something.” As the horrible saga of Nassar unfolds, I'm sure people are saying the same thing.

On a national level, the story shows the dire consequences of inaction.

This inaction can especially become a problem in situations with many people, such as large college parties. In such situations, there is often the social psychological phenomenon known as the "bystander effect." When more people are present, we feel less responsible and assume someone else will do something. 

But others taking action is not guaranteed. You can only know if you will take action. 

In the final testimony of the Nassar trial on Jan. 24, survivor Rachael Denhollander spoke to the importance of this collective responsibility.

“May the horror expressed in this courtroom over the last seven days be motivation for anyone and everyone no matter the context to take responsibility if they have failed in protecting a child, to understand the incredible failures that led to this week, and to do it better the next time,” Denhollander said.

Don’t be a bystander. If you hear someone victim-blame, stand up for the survivors who might not feel ready to stand up for themselves. If you see someone ready to exploit someone too drunk to consent, don’t just let it happen. If you hear an allegation against someone you know, take it seriously — even someone as monstrous as Nassar was capable of deceiving others into thinking he was in the right.

Don’t think “it was none of my business.”

Martin Luther King Jr. was once quoted as saying: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

The American culture of hyper-individualism can have devastating consequences. Sexual violence is all of our business.

Consider this: 33 percent of female rape victims consider suicide and 13 percent attempt suicide, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. 

We cannot stand by when the stakes are so high. 

We cannot pretend others’ abuse, sexual or otherwise, is none of our business.