Bystander Effect


One of these days I’m going to leave this two-bit crumby apartment. I thought I had raised my children right, but after they grew up and became doctors and lawyers they stopped coming around. Then,  my husband passed away. For two years I worked at the convenience store just at the end of Griffith  street for a meager paycheck and three gun-point robberies a year. This old lady doesn’t intend to make a fuss, you take what God gives you whether it is green earth or the filthy streets of New York City. It wasn’t, though, where I wished to live, not in a rubbish-hole of an apartment complex that charged too damn much; pardon my French. But that night God showed me something about people and perhaps that was why I was there. I’m not sure why he showed me this thing. I’ve always held it as a terrible thing, but true nonetheless.

I had come home and after cooking up some Hamburger Helper for supper, I reclined in my rocking chair, as I did each night, and watched soap-operas on the television. Nearly sixty years of life, and my greatest possession was a fourteen-inch television.

An hour into the show, I heard a scream. I thought nothing of it. People in New York City scream all day long. Gun-fire and police sirens were a nightly occurrence. You try not to think about it. You learn to block it out, ’cause else you will go crazy. Over the next twenty minutes,  I probably heard four more screams. But something in me was bothered by the screams. They were all the same voice and not a single other voice fought back. I knew, at this point, that it was not just another bad episode of Jerry Springer, but something else. Sometimes, it was best not to know.

I turned up the volume a few more notches. Finally, the screaming stopped. I could watch my soap opera without turning my head to the black window speckled with lighted spots from the street lamps below each time a scream echoed in the otherwise still night. The window had a missing chip and a piece of tape over it. I hated living on the third story, but, then again, how much louder would the screams have been on the first floor.

Without so much as the jangle of the phone on the wall, I sat there, watching soap operas for about an hour. Then, I turned it off and got ready for bed. The rusty bedsprings squeaked as I laid down, curling up in blankets. As I laid there in the dark, rather disappointed with my life and my children, I heard a soft whimpering. I listened for a moment. It sounded like crying. It was coming from that creaky old window patched with tape. I don’t know why I did it, but I got up out of bed, slid my tired feet into my blue and worn slippers and started to the window. I can only say God must have pushed me to that window.  I got to the window and looked into the lamp-lit gray streets below, surrounded by a glossy-wet darkness.

I could see parked cars several yards from the base of the building. I heard the cry again, and as I looked about, I saw a pair of legs on the ground beside an unclean dumpster. Shifting my head, I could see an arm and part of a blouse, but the rest of the woman was not visible for the dumpster being in the way. Then, I saw the rugged blacktop pavement painted over with dashes of blood.

I grabbed the phone and dialed 9-1-1. I put the receiver to my head as I rushed back to the window. The cord of the wall phone just barely stretched to the window.

“9-1-1, please state the nature of your emergency,” came a calm female voice on the line.

“Yes. There is a bleeding woman on the ground outside my apartment building.”

“The address?”

“Sixteen-forty–forty-three Griffith Street.”

“Sixteen-forty-three Griffith Street?”

“Yes, sorry.” I stared out the window, her legs were still moving, writhing in agony.

“–with the victim?”

“No, I am in my apartment.”

“Stay there, do not go to the vic–”

“Hold on! I see someone approaching… A man.”

“An officer?”

“No. No uniform. Has short hair, grey shirt, black pants. A tattoo of a… woman I think on his arm–Oh my! He has a knife!”

“Stay calm, remain on the line. Help is on the–”

“He’s stabbing her! She’s screaming!”

“Ma’am please–”

“He’s raping her!” I crumpled to the floor crying, my wrinkled knees hitting the floor roughly. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I couldn’t watch anymore. More, more of her scream floated up and I could hear the sound of something repetitiously banging against the metal dumpster.

The 9-1-1 operator continued to ask me to stay calm, but I knew I would never be calm in these blasted apartments ever again. I started praying, kneeling beside my window in my nightgown and slippers. The operator, too, if my memory serves, prayed with me.

The screaming and metallic banging had stopped before the police arrived. I finally hung up the phone after thanking the operator. I crawled back in bed, but I could not sleep.

When morning light came just a few hours later, I rang my daughter in Illinois and told her my story. A few days later, I left that forsaken city and apartment with my daughter.


I had heard, later, that the poor girl died. She had been raped not once, but twice that night. She suffered over thirty stab wounds all over her body. Had laid in that street bleeding for over two hours… But for all that that experience shook me, and how guilty I felt for ignoring those screams, those cries for help, the fact I could have saved her, nothing prepared me for what I heard one of the news report say:

Though the victim was only feet away from a five-story apartment complex housing over 500 people, only one emergency call was placed.


NOTE: The events of this story are based upon a true story.

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14 Responses to Bystander Effect

  1. Karen says:

    Incredibly sad. One of 500!
    Looking the other way is just too easy.

    • vozey says:

      The story is loosely based on a group effect termed “Bystander Effect” in Psychology terms. It gives that the more people are standing around witnessing, the LESS likely someone is to do something about it.

      As a matter of principle, when faced with these circumstances, I do it just in case no one does. Just did this yesterday actually, saw a car slide completely out of their lane 5 times over the course of less than 5 miles. Almost hit a side wall, too. Phoned it in, just couldn’t stand the thought of not doing something about it.

      • Karen says:

        The ‘Bystander Effect’ is really dangerous. Nobody feels responsible as there are enough others who could help. Once again: they could help, they rather would not help, though. A real pity.
        I could no longer look at myself in the mirror if I did not help at all. The least thing is to phone it in – like you did yesterday.

  2. Akira Okihu says:

    Reblogged this on A Corner of My Mind and commented:
    The Bystander Effect. A new notion that I learned today. I don’t think I will ever be able to witness something without calling the police/ambulance/firemen (you get the idea).

  3. Reblogged this on From Our Gift Basket Villas to Yours and commented:
    “One of these days I’m going to leave this two-bit crumby apartment. I thought I had raised my children right, but after they grew up and became doctors and lawyers they stopped coming around.”

  4. It really makes you think about us as a society! Thanks

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