One act can change one lifetime

  • Published
  • By Capt. Paul Bogacz
  • 8th Fighter Wing sexual assault respnse coordina
Forty years ago, Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered outside her New York City apartment building.

According to reports thirty-eight people heard her calls for help as they watched from the safety of their homes. The attack lasted more than half an hour and no one intervened. After it was over, someone called the police, who arrived within two minutes by which time the murderer was gone and another life was senselessly lost.

In 2008 in Wisconsin as many as ten people witnessed a man raping and beating a woman outside her apartment. No one attempted to stop it. Instead, their curiosity peaked, they turned and walked away, leaving her to him.

Truly, these are extreme stories and, though the Genovese case is a few decades old, not much has changed in regards to the way people react to emergency or crisis situations -- known as the "Bystander Effect".

But reacting isn't always easy, or everyone would be able to do it, right? The Bystander Effect is a social, psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present. The more people (bystanders) around, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.

Humans are fickle creatures; we want to help but we're hard-wired to check the reactions of others around to gauge the necessity. "If they're not responding then it must truly not be an emergency." we think, even if the obvious signs point the other way. In addition people often think that if it is a legitimate emergency then, surely, someone will act.

The problem with this thinking is that it is very likely that everyone is thinking the same and no one acts. Unfortunately, many times people are more concerned about their own safety or simply not appearing foolish, than helping another.

The progressive nature of sexual assaults typically lends itself to a number of opportunities for someone to step up and act. That action or inaction could make a lifetime of difference to one of our own.

Sexual assaults rarely happen in the dark alley by the guy with the ski mask. Victims are usually prepared by the predator well in advance. This is critical for us at the Wolf Pack. We all live, work and play very close to each other. Sometimes we know more about each other than we'd ever wish to know. The take-away is that we have a tremendous opportunity to intervene to save one of our own.

When a sexual predator is in the stages of prepping a victim they're usually are signs along the way, providing chances for someone to step forward and "stop the stupid." The following is a list of things we can do to prevent sexual assaults:
  • Call it for what it is
    • Sexual assaults are typically planned in advance and the victim is "prepped" by the perpetrator. Recognize what's happening and trust your gut. These things don't happen by 'accident' or as a 'misunderstanding'
  • Consider whether the situation demands your action
    • Does she look like a willing participant?
    • Is she capable of making that decision in her current state?
    • Does it 'feel' to you that she's been pressured or "prepped"?
  • Decide if you have a responsibility to act
    • It doesn't matter if he or she's your friend, intervene!
    • Ask for help/peer pressure the perp. If you can't go it alone, It's okay--it's not about you!
    • Simply if it requires a response you must act
  • Choose what form of assistance to use
    • Group approach
    • Buddy-buddy/friend
    • Concerned observer
    • Split them up; remove him; ask to speak to her alone (help/guidance--anything will work, just get her out of the situation)
    • Direct intervention/confrontation
  • Understand how to implement the choice safely
    • Fear for bystander's own safety is a critical decision in whether to intervene or not
    • Within a group
    • Know what formal channels are available
Each one of us has the power and the responsibility to intervene. Once we recognize the situation and decide if intervention is needed we need to act. No one wants to be the person to say "'what if" and we all would hope and pray that a bystander would intervene on the behalf of one of our loved ones in that position. 

Do the 'mirror check' and ask yourself, "if I don't do something will I be okay with that?" A bruised ego is worth the missed opportunity to save a Wingman. Not acting when your gut tells you something is wrong is never the answer.