The Bystander Effect at UAlbany

Recently, I received an email on my student account with the subject line: Incident at Concert. UAlbany had hosted a concert for 2Chainz, the rapper. I expected it was something about outrageous partying or maybe things got a little bit out of hand like that time at Kegs and Eggs in 2011. However, I was approached with something a little more daunting: sexual assault in a crowd. The email read:

We need to remember a few things: concerts are messy –they’re sweaty, boisterous, and very crowded. You are standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers. We, as an audience, are so packed together like sardines that our range of sight becomes distorted. This is where the problem always occurs for attending women– whether or not the touching you feel is accidental or purposeful. We can (hopefully) see in front of us and maybe shimmy enough to have two inches of elbow room, but trying to move around is nearly impossible.  All we tend to care about is being able to enjoy the music and maybe catch a glimpse of the performer. But it is the inability to even have a concern with our surroundings that allows things like molestation and assault to happen.

Presumably, concerts become a breeding ground for inappropriate touching. And trust me, a woman can tell between accidental touching and a touch with bad intent, and the glamor of a concert always subsides for a second or two when you realize you may just be alone in the crowd. For a woman, this can be really scary. You don’t know if your ass was squeezed or simply brushed against when that guy passed behind you because you can’t look, and you are crushed between Person A and B as your friend becomes lost within the crowd.  Standing among a crowd of strangers is exactly what our mothers always warned us about. We did not learn about the “Buddy System” in vain; our mothers taught us how to protect ourselves in moments of vulnerability.

When this incident occurred at UAlbany recently, we have to attempt to comprehend the environment of the event and why it occurred. It could be the basic environment of the concert or it could just be the act of two sleaze balls that saw an opportunity and seized it. It is not hard to exploit a young woman left alone in a crowd where her surroundings already involve a lot of touching and closeness. These men could easily appear as if they were dancing, but they knew full well what they were doing.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened. In fact, back in 2009, a 15-year-old girl was gang raped at her homecoming dance in Richmond, California. Five people were taken into custody by the police, who said at least 20 people witnessed the event. Twenty people. Granted, the situation is slightly different because it did not include a concert, but they do have one similarity: a crowd. Thus, we approach the issue of how and why a crowd could see an assault but not step forward.

Some would call it the “Bystander Effect” (also known as Genovese Syndrome). It’s a behavioral psychology based theory that suggests the more people witnessing a violent crime, the less likely someone will intervene. I used the word “theory” only because it is still considered a phenomenon; it is very difficult to study natural responses with fake emergencies. It was, however, first identified in the 1960s after the murder of Kitty Genovese where 38 people witnessed her attack and, eventually, her murder. Genovese’s murder led leading psychologists to try to comprehend human behavior in times of emergencies.

Bibb Latané, John Darley, and a mix of their students conducted several experiments as to why this phenomenon occurs. In one of their experiments, Latané and Darley placed young college men, who believed they were waiting to be interviewed about their urban lifestyles, into a room that would fill with smoke. When the young men were placed next to “confederates” who were trained not to react to the smoke, “only 10% reported the problem before the designated 6-min stopping point.” When the young men were allowed to react freely, only the action of one initiated the actions of the other. Thus, Latané and Darley concluded:

“The reason this happens is that each individual attempts to determine the danger present in the situation simultaneously. In part, each individual does this by attempting to determine how the others interpret the situation. Each, then, interprets the others’ reactions as calm rather than as confusion. Therefore, individual attempts to disambiguate the situation actually serve as social cues that inhibit the behaviors of others. (Hudson 169)”

Additionally, after further experimentation for their theory, Latané and Darley brought it down to four mechanisms that contribute to, what we now call, the Bystander Effect:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Social Cues
  • Blocking
  • Diffuse Responsibility

What these mechanisms mean is that people are afraid. They do not want to appear foolish by acting out against the crowd, and they need social cues in order to permit action(s). If someone else appears unsettled and starts speaking up, someone else will join in, but since the lingering anxiety of responsibility weighs on the crowd, people remain silent. (170)

The Bystander Effect was in full force during the recent horrible event that occurred in Ohio: The Steubenville Gang Rape. (Serious Trigger Warnings here, you guys.) Police investigation tapes revealed that the victim’s peers were concerned, but they did not help. They knew she was drunk; one young man even reported she could hardly stand up and was passing out. Why did they let her rapists, Trent Mays (17) and Ma’lik Richmond (16), take her? They knew she was in no condition to give consent.

With the incident at the 2Chainz concert, there was also no verbal consent. However, the problematic environment of a concert could allow someone to comfortably assume she was having fun and that the male attention was exactly what she wanted. But no woman asks to be violated, and no man should have the idea in their head that women are disposable – that they are merely objects to enjoy at their own leisure, let alone see an opportunity to treat women as such. This entire incident implies these men knew exactly what they were doing, and if I had to guess, her friends were lost somewhere in the crowd trying to enjoy the show, leaving her alone. Women become prey in a crowd because our humanity is non-existent – when you’re constantly considered to be something on display in both terms of sexuality and desirability, assault becomes normalized. And men dancing inappropriately on women despite her protests is something we see everywhere – concerts, which are supposed to be fun, are no exception.

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3 thoughts on “The Bystander Effect at UAlbany

  1. I’ve actually recently done research on the Bystander Effect, and how it is applicable to situations today. We see this all the time, you go out to a bar setting and see some guy grinding up on a girl as she tries to run away, and no one really does a thing, they all laugh and snicker. What a great, witty article! JORDAN FOR PRESIDENT

  2. “When this incident occurred at UAlbany recently, we have to attempt to comprehend the environment of the event”: indeed.

    “the State is not an insurer or guarantor of the safety of SUNYA students”
    McEnaney v. State of New York, 267 AD 2d 748 – NY: Appellate Div., 3rd Dept. 1999. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=14949034404515783354

    “UAlbany student Suzanne Lyall disappearance still mystery after 15 years.” CBS6Albany. March 20, 2013. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPpjepTz9V8

    Crowley, Cathleen F. and Mark Singelais. “Six attacks reported at UAlbany this fall, and in all but one case charges have not been sought against the alleged attacker.” Albany Times Union. October 18, 2006: A1. http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6363901

    “‘the university is placing the responsibility on women and the victims,’ said Chris Johnson, 20, a senior from Orange County who is majoring in women’s studies. ‘I didn’t see any effort to reach out to the people who perpetuate rape.”
    Crowley, Cathleen F. “Questions remain at UAlbany3rd suspect held as women on campus take issue with focus of safety forum.” Albany Times Union.October 19, 2006: A1. http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6364044

    Singelais, Mark. “Ford insists UAlbany reputation unharmed; Coach says university should weather arrests of 3 players.” Albany Times Union. October 20, 2006: C1. http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6364233

    Crowley, Cathleen F. “Handling of rape case defended; UAlbany police chief says officers followed protocol in dealing with alleged assault.” Albany Times Union. October 26, 2006: A1. http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=6365244

    “SUNY-Albany; Rumors of Rape Adding to Anxiety On Tense Campus.” N.Y. Times. April 19, 1992. http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/19/nyregion/campus-life-suny-albany-rumors-of-rape-adding-to-anxiety-on-tense-campus.html

    Nelis, Karen. “UAlbany women’s group banished.” Albany Times Union. March 19, 1994: B1. http://albarchive.merlinone.net/mweb/wmsql.wm.request?oneimage&imageid=5715067

    Grondahl, Paul. “Out of sight, but not of mind; Karen Wilson vanished in 1985, but her case has never been closed.” Albany Times Union. March 6, 2013. http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/Out-of-sight-but-not-of-mind-4334152.php

    “What impact do you think Division I athletics will have on the University’s relationship with the community? A community as a whole becomes identified with a college or a university that exists within its boundaries. Penn State, as an example, has a community that identifies with that institution. So I think that the City of Albany will eventually identify with the University at Albany, and our intercollegiate athletics program will probably be a source of pride for the city.”
    “Bob Ford on Division I: Community and Campus Pride.” Albany Magazine. http://www.albany.edu/pr/fordnew.html

    “Albany has a reputation for grooming young coaches. How do you use your coaching staff? I heard Joe Paterno say, ‘You hire good people, give them a job to do, and don’t look over their shoulders all the time.’ I’d say that’s the way I approach my staff.”
    Coaching Management, 8.4, May 2000, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm0804/qaford.htm

    “‘I’ll miss a good friend and I think we’ll all miss a coaching legend,’ said Bob Ford, UAlbany’s Head Football Coach. […] Ford was a friend of Paterno’s, and remembers the coach’s life fondly. […] ‘he himself did nothing wrong, but as he said, he wished he did more,’ said Ford.” Cruz, Megan. “Locals mourn Paterno.” YNN. January 22, 2012. http://saratoga-north.ynn.com/content/your_news/571083/locals-mourn-paterno/

  3. I have to agree with you there. I am a frequent concert go-er. If you aren’t on your toes, people will mess with you. Almost got in a fight with some girls at a Streetlight Manifesto concert (it was in downtown L.A., which is never really a good place to be in the first place.)

    I feel like you’re my twin living in NY while I’m in L.A.

    I don’t know why, I just feel like I relate to your writing both creative and informative.

    My college has those concerts too. I never go, but I’m sure a lot of things happen on that campus that would make anyone questionable.

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