Cleveland resident Charles Ramsey set an important example for our society to take note of when he heard a woman screaming and decided to act upon her pleas for help. Courageously, Ramsey became a shining example of being an “Active Bystander” when he helped Amanda Berry kick out a locked screen door of the home, ultimately freeing three long-missing Cleveland women who been imprisoned for 10 years.
Twenty three years ago, while attending an Atlanta conference, I too was taken hostage. As I was exiting my hotel room, a knife-wielding man attacked me in the interior hotel corridor. I was forced into my hotel room where I was robbed and sexually assaulted. Police reports later showed my screams were heard by other hotel guests, but no one called security. No one intervened. Essentially, no one “acted” on my behalf.
As the media continues to explore how the Cleveland women’s captivity went undetected for a decade, I’ll take the opportunity to inform about the power of bystanders.
Bystanders represent a large community of people surrounding the progression of inappropriate behaviors, harassment and violence.
Bystanders have a choice: to be active bystanders who speak up and say something, or remain passive bystanders who stand by and say nothing. Although the Cleveland kidnappings represent the extreme, there are a multitude of situations where bystanders can intervene: bullying, when sexist comments or racial slurs are made, harassment, or when witnessing inappropriate advances.
Often, the reasons we don’t interrupt situations in which we perceive conflict or unacceptable behavior include:
“It’s none of my business and it’s not my problem.”
Truth: Violence is everyone’s problem. We are all affected by violence in our communities.
“Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing.”
Truth: Any kind of violence is a big deal, from screaming at someone to grabbing someone’s arm. If it seems wrong to you, it probably is.
I’m not advocating that people risk their own safety in order to be an active bystander, but ask you to consider these six steps offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technologythe next time you feel something is amiss. And, of course, there is always the immediate assistance by calling 911.
1. Notice an occurrence out of the ordinary
2. Decide “in your gut” that something is amiss or unacceptable
3. Ask yourself, “Could I play a role here?”
If no one intervenes, what will likely happen?
Is someone else better placed to respond?
What would be my purpose in responding?
4. Assess your options for giving help
5. Determine the potential risks of taking action.
Are there risks to myself?
Are there risks to others (e.g. potential retaliation against person being “helped”)?
Is there a low-risk option?
How could I reduce risks?
Is there more information I can get to better assess the situation?