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The Bystander Effect


Amanda BerryBy Darakshan Raja

After facing torture for years in captivity, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight are free. The fact such a case surfaced should shock our society’s conscience. Rather than focusing on making a mockery or marketing Charles Ramsey’s statements to the media, our focus needs to be on how three women were kidnapped, kept in a basement, chained, beat, and raped until one of them escaped. This case once again brings up issues on community responses to violence, social apathy towards victims, lack of law enforcement and criminal justice responses, and a tough reality for the practitioners and advocates in the victims’ rights movement that despite 40 plus years of work, the field is still in a place where a victim must find an escape route to get help. The systems in place that range from law enforcement responses to community interventions aren’t equipped in tackling cases where victims aren’t able to escape.  Basically it means that we still haven’t successfully created and implemented proper crisis responses. This case as well as crime statistics show us that despite being the country with the highest rates of incarceration and a law enforcement system that rivals military capabilities in other parts of the world, our criminal justice system and the victim services field is missing the mark when it comes to serving most victims of crime.  It isn’t just Amanda’s case that demonstrates the lapse in law enforcement and social services responses, we know from recent data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that approximately 1 in 2 crimes aren’t reported to law enforcement, and overall the majority of victims never receive victim services.

For communities the troubling question is how is it possible that despite community presence, the offenders were able to operate with absolute impunity. While the media life for covering such crimes is short, offenses such as kidnappings, rape, abuse, and imprisonment take place regularly. For example according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an organization that was founded by the parents of a 6-year old boy named Adam Walsh who was kidnapped and found brutally murdered, the organization has received 3,716,044 calls since its inception. Furthermore according to a national study on determining prevalence of missing children reported there were 800,000 young children under 18 who were missing (http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts). It is important to note that these numbers only cover children. If we included adults, the numbers may be much higher. These numbers coupled with the oversight from neighbors and first responders in the case of Amanda, Gina, and Michelle presents a daunting picture of the failure of our mechanisms for providing protection, redress, and accountability. How is it that even after a neighbor reported they had seen a naked woman crawling on her knees and hands in a backyard of the house, law enforcement didn’t take the case seriously. How are we able to hold other countries, governments, and regimes accountable for the brutal gang rape and murder of woman and girls, but can’t internally reflect on how is it possible that individuals could be held in torture chambers in the midst of our own neighborhoods. Such situations can only take place when communities, societies, and systems choose to look the other way.

For those individuals who are dismissive of the situation as a failure of communities and systems in responding to the needs of victims, and argue it could never happen in their neighborhoods or that they would respond differently, please take a look at the video attached in this article of a staged abduction in broad daylight. It took hours before someone intervened to help the young girl in the video who yelled for help as bystanders walked passed as if nothing was taking place. Please take a deeper look at how situations may take place right in front of us, and rather than taking an active role to intervene, we are quick to walk away, dismiss the situation, and go about our daily lives as if nothing ever took place. If you can share rap versions of Charles Ramsey’s response that take away the seriousness of this situation and turn the incident into a comedy stunt that mocks violence, please do take the time to consider the seriousness of this issue, and how we can all train ourselves to act and respond so individuals aren’t kept chained up for years in a neighbor’s basement. We owe it to the numerous Amandas, Ginas, and Michelles that are out there.


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