Whilst most cases of abuse occur behind closed doors, domestic violence is not only a private matter. It can travel with the victim to the workplace or even occur in the open public. With new data showing domestic violence cases on the rise in New South Wales, it has become increasingly important that we strive to eradicate the ‘bystander effect’ by encouraging proactive intervention and stressing the communal benefits of speaking out.
The ‘bystander effect’ or ‘bystander apathy’ is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. Rather than stepping in or speaking out, individuals who witness the abuse or trauma experienced by the victim, attempt to ignore the situation. If we continue to turn a blind eye to clear instances of abuse, we are only fuelling the continuation of a violent cycle.
Denial of abuse is also abuse.
It is therefore our responsibility to be the voice for someone, man or woman, who may be too afraid to speak out themselves. It’s about having the courage to raise the alarm to a risky situation and break the culture of secrecy where not many want to confront the situation or talk about the issue. Sometimes, it takes a stranger to point out to others that abuse is occurring for the victim themselves to realise they are in a dangerous situation.
Individual bystander action often requires noticing the situation, interpreting the event as requiring intervention, assuming responsibility, deciding how to help and maintaining confidence in the capacity to help. In doing so, bystanders potentially play a key role in challenging cultural perceptions of domestic violence and gender inequality.