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Inaction, apathy abet criminals to thrive

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
A man accused of a crime is beaten up by a mob. The onus is on all of us to intervene during criminal activities because if we don't, we're being complicit. /MARK ANDREWS
A man accused of a crime is beaten up by a mob. The onus is on all of us to intervene during criminal activities because if we don't, we're being complicit. /MARK ANDREWS

"If you are silent in times of injustice, you choose the side of the oppressor." This statement is usually used in reference to protests or social movements. I was reminded of this quote in a different context.

I thought of this quote in relation to the bystander apathy when abuse/injustice occurs.

Many of us have witnessed abuse happen, have heard screams from neighbours and instead of helping, we chose to increase the volume of the TV or radio to block out the noise or simply walk away from the crime scene.

This could be because we have become used to the screams from beatings, or because we have called the police so many times but the victim continues to go back to the perpetrator - so we give up.

At times we do not help the victim because we have been taught that a couple should be left alone to solve their problems.

This thinking is so rife that women are turned away from reporting abuse cases at police stations because the police officers suggest that the matter should be dealt with between the couple.

It is important to hone in on ending the culture of being bystanders to abuse to avoid normalising the phenomenon. The reason why we can simply look away and say it is none of our business is because we have been desensitised to abuse and thus have normalised it.

It cannot be okay that abusers can beat a woman or man in public freely, because they too know that no one will do anything. Because of our inaction and apathy, abuse can thrive. Abusers and rapists roam freely around us because we let them.

A study by HH Kettrey & RA Marx (2018) that involved 6,000 college students across the US, found that programmes to prevent assault by increasing bystander intervention have a meaningful effect on preventing the occurrence of assault.

A focus on motivating bystander intervention is important because traditional assault programmes that target the behaviour of potential victims or perpetrators are not particularly effective at preventing assault.

Ending the culture of abuse and injustice generally, may in fact be stopped by us as everyday "onlookers".

I understand that the rates of extreme violence in our country make it even more scary for us to intervene.

But enlisting the help of others to approach the perpetrator of abuse may be a strategy we can use, as cliché as this may sound, there is power in numbers.

The victims are usually powerless and have tried various ways of escaping. Our intervention thus has the secondary effect of unburdening the victim, to some extent. Not only have we acted against the perpetrator but we have shown the victim a level of care and support.

I say the onus is on all of us to intervene because if we do not, we are complicit and lend a hand to the perpetuation of injustice.

The onus is upon all of us to make the perpetrators uncomfortable. I will use a simplistic example to bring my point home: most of us know of a particular township or area that has minimal crime due to the community taking charge of the community safety and forming localised groups that protect the community.

Criminals know not to set foot in those places because of the consequences that will follow.

My hope is that, after reading this, in our little pockets of society, we begin to challenge perpetrators of injustice.

Moreover, the beauty of choosing action over inaction is that people will do some learning and unlearning of toxic behaviours or views that they would have otherwise not have seen as problematic.

Our silence to injustice is by default an endorsement of it.

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