A country of bystandersIn 1968, U.S. psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latane conducted a famous experiment. They created a situation in which it appeared as though someone was having an epileptic seizure to see how many people would offer help to a person in an emergency situation. According to the scientists’ observations, the probability that a bystander lent a hand to the person in trouble was 85 percent when there was only one person at the scene. But when there were five people, the chance that they offered help plunged to 31 percent.
This is the so-called “bystander effect,” which refers to the theory that people will be less willing to come to the aid of a person in an emergency situation when other people are present. It is one of the reasons why so many crimes go unreported in big cities, where so many people live together.
The murder of a young man in his 20s by several teenagers in Jamsil-dong, southern Seoul, last month is a typical case of the bystander effect. More than 10 passengers watched the crime, which took place in a bustling area crammed with restaurants. But no one tried to stop the violence or report it to the police. The victim was later sent to a hospital nearby, but he was eventually pronounced brain dead. If just one of the passersby had reported the incident to the police, the man’s life could have been saved.
Citizens are becoming more indifferent to violence than ever before. Consider, for example, the collective murder of a 15-year-old girl by her school friends last month. A loud scream reverberated through the alley in her neighborhood and some neighbors even watched the scene, but no one dared to come to her rescue or report it to the police.
Under these circumstances, we cannot keep our society safe. Even if we increase the number of police officers or CCTVs, we cannot monitor every corner of the country every minute of the day.
Citizens should volunteer to become the guardians of their own communities, although we understand that the job involves risks to one’s own personal safety.
But it is not that difficult to find citizen heroes in our society - people who rescued others by risking their own lives. One of them is Kim Shin-koo, 35, from Hongcheon, South Chungcheong. Kim subdued a suspicious man in his 50s after watching him scuffle with a teenage girl and then handed the man over to the police. The man, who was attempting to abduct the young girl, turned out to be a former convict who had been indicted on charges of child molestation. Kim’s extraordinary - and mature - act of citizenship potentially helped prevent another terrible child abduction and rape case.
Although everyone cannot display Kim’s same courage, the least we can do is call the police. Otherwise, we will all be guilty of standing by while a crime is committed.