Technology exacerbates the bystander effect in sexual assault cases

This week in ways technology is simultaneously making our lives much, much better while also destroying it, an audience of at least 40 people watched a Facebook Live streaming of a 15 year old girl being raped by six men. And not one of those people called for help.

To make the story even sicker, it seems that peers of the victim are now harassing her on social media and sending her family threats, so much so that she has yet to return to her home after being found.

This story brings to light a couple very troubling aspects of sexual assault that most people do not consider. The first is the bystander effect. This is a term that explains the public’s unwillingness to step in and help people in distress. In this instance, 40 people saw a 15 year old girl being dragged onto a bed by six men and no one even tried to call for help… but some took screenshots and some even chose to repost them.

This portrays the tendency of people in society today to whip out their phones when they see something bad (an argument, a physical altercation, a sexual assault) instead of choosing to step in and help the situation. There are Twitter accounts and websites where you can watch phone footage of people fighting each other, usually with others cheering them on int he background. People would rather have recognition on social media than to do the uncomfortable thing and act like a decent human being.

Secondly, the more recent developments in this story perfectly portray victim-blaming. Middle and high school aged teenagers are psychologically more likely to be unabashedly mean. They are insecure, they have a pack mentality, and their moral compasses have not yet fully developed – this is largely why the teenage years are torture for most children. Not to mention rape victims who have had photos and videos of their assaults posted and passed around their schools, only to face harassment instead of empathy.

There have been many documented cases of exactly this happening. The victim in the Steubenville rape case was harassed by the community for sullying the good name of the town and its football team, even though she was passed out when two football players sexually assaulted her and photographed and videotaped it. Daisy Coleman‘s family was ran out of town after their house mysteriously burned to the ground when they tried to prosecute the son of a well-known family in town. She was raped and dumped on her front lawn, later found suffering from frostbite by her brother. She was 14 years old.

Retaeh Parsons and Audrie Potts, both 15, had something else in common; they both committed suicide after photos of their sexual assaults went viral around their high schools. They were both viciously bullied by their peers due to actions that were inflicted upon them when they were literally unconscious.

The question is, how long will cases like these continue to come to light before everyone realizes they have a part to play in preventing them? Parents need to educate and protect their children. Law enforcement needs to understand and work for victims. Potential attackers need to learn the definition of consent and compassion. Victims need to protect themselves from risky situations.

Most of all, we all need to do something if we see something wrong happening. Put down the camera and choose to act, instead.

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