The Aventina

The Bystander Problem

Sophia Bare, Reporter

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Not a long time ago, there was the horrifying case of David and Louise Turpin, who shackled and starved their 13 children, and were caught only after their 17 year old daughter, who appeared much younger due to malnutrition, escaped and alerted the authorities. The Turpins have been arrested and arraigned, and their children are safe — the adults now reside at Corona Regional Medical Center while the children are staying at Riverside University Health System Medical Center — though they will have to suffer the long-lasting effects of abuse and torture they faced at the hands of their parents.
However, the Turpins wild disregard for their children’s wellbeings is not the problem I wish to discuss. Obviously the Turpins are terrible human beings that deserve to rot in prison, if only to experience 1/10th of the physical and mental pain that they inflicted on their children — there is no debating that. The present issue is one commonly referred to as the “bystander effect.”
The bystander effect is a dilemma often discussed in middle school and high school health classes in relation to bullying. When you see someone being bullied, and you stand by and do nothing — i.e. if you are a bystander — you are contributing to their bullying, to their suffering. This concept can be applied in cases outside of the school environment — and this is one of such cases.
Neighbours of the Turpin family told news reporters of various instances where they suspected something was not quite right with the family. Neighbours described the children as “malnourished”, “very pale-skinned” as if they had “never seen the sun”. The children were rarely seen outside. However, in spite of all the signs, the neighbours did not think it was necessary to report to the police.
Every time a horrific incident like this appears in the news, it seems there are dozens of accounts of neighbours and onlookers who had always noticed something “off” about the suspects’ behaviours. Only after the suspect is exposed, and the victims are free do people come forward of suspicious behaviours. This is the bystander problem.
The truth of the matter is, even when people see something, they rarely say anything. This is probably due to the fact that they are more worried about being perceived as a nosy meddler than about the notion that there may be abuse in a neighbour’s house. Only after the fact, do they recall instances of suspicious behaviour. If only the bystanders had reported such instances rather than choosing to ignore them in favour of neighbourly politeness, maybe the suffering of the victims could have been cut short.
So next time you see something, please say something. If you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But if you’re right, you have just saved the victim possibly from years and years of more abuse and misery.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license

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The Bystander Problem