The danger of silence

28 August 2018

Joy Webb | Travis Boren

[email protected][email protected]

The main obligation of living in a community is that, by proximity, we become responsible for each other. What affects our neighbor, our classmate, the person across the aisle from you on the shuttle, affects us as well.

   As a member of a community, when we witness an event where it is clear another member of the community will be harmed, we face a social imperative to speak up or act. Our society has created a passive culture when it comes to escalated situations when someone has become a victim, or someone is witnessing an attack.

    Silence is not the answer to this problem.

    In the podcast My Favorite Murder, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff turned their comedy podcast into a true crime podcast phenomena that discusses why victims and bystanders should not take a passive approach in these critical situations.

    As disheartening as it is to have to equip men and women with tools to either prevent or handle an attack, it is the world that we live in. However, we need to encourage victims and bystanders to feel as though they are prepared if they may find themselves in this position.

    So many times, I have been told to ignore harassers who approach me with crude remarks, but this is the very issue; we cannot be silent. It is better to speak up, instead of live in fear and anticipation of something like this happening, than to stay quiet and polite.

    In My Favorite Murder, Hardstark and Kilgariff believe that politeness is the true danger in these situations. It the leaves the suspect feeling as though the victim is vulnerable and weak.

    According to RAINN (rape abuse and incest national network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8 percent completed and 2.8 percent attempted.)

    Many times, these occurrences happen because a bystander didn’t speak up, or a previous victim was afraid to speak out. We must be supportive, as a university community, so that these people have the courage and power to talk about and act on these issues.

    The reasons for inaction are explainable. Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford professor responsible for the infamous Stanford Prison experiment, and Zeno Franco, described the bystander effect in an article called The Banality of Heroism in Greater Good Magazine.

    “Research has shown that the bystander effect is often motivated by diffusion of responsibility, when different people witnessing an emergency all assume someone else will help.”

    In a situation when 911 needs to be called, bystanders can oftentimes think that another person is taking action, when in reality, no one is; hence, the bystander effect. It is better to act and make the call even if someone else already has, than to leave the victim helpless.

    No matter how clear the reasons for silence — the reasons for inaction — the silence is not justified.

    Even the ideals of rational self-interest cannot be properly applied to inaction. According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, a study that followed sex-offenders post-release from prison found that 17.1 percent were re-arrested for violent crimes in the next three years. When we allow someone to harm others, they will harm someone else in the future.

    The responsibility to act is universal, regardless of your position; it applies to students, faculty, public officers, even guests.

    You must be a voice for yourself or others, so speak out.