Bystander intervention is a very important part of stopping a crime before it ever occurs. Violence is never random. Sexual violence is NEVER random. Even in a case that appears to be a “random” home invasion, there was always a previous event, or a series of events, that led the perpetrator to commit that particular criminal act. As a society, we are much quicker to analyze, and scrutinize, a victim’s actions before the crime, as opposed to what led the perpetrator to that point – especially in cases of sexual violence. We must look at both in order to understand the full scope of what’s occurring, and therefore bring about change before a potential crime.
In “Broken Sand Dollar,” I reference a 1985 home invasion that occurred while I was a senior in college living in a four-bedroom house with three other girls. This was not a huge part of the overall story, but it’s important to this post. A serial rapist broke into our home during the middle of the night, and raped a young woman (my roommate’s younger sister), who happened to be visiting us for a few days. I was away, and she slept in my room. The crime was reported. When the police arrived, they wrongly concluded that this was an isolated case – and possibly a case of mistaken identity since I wasn’t there, and it happened in my bed. The next day, they brutally questioned me. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what was happening, but soon realized that they never took our case seriously. There’s a cold harsh reality in knowing that police don’t care about your physical safety. I do remember being treated like I was the criminal. I had been away that night at my boyfriend’s house, who is now my husband, typing a paper all night. However, the police seemed to conclude that we were “party girls” and the man who broke into our home was surely someone I knew.
Before the serial rapist left that night, he made a statement: “I’ll be back.”
The next day, a man fitting his description stood across the street and stared at our house. I called the police, and asked them to please come out and question him – but they refused. They explained that their time was too valuable to question “every man we saw standing on the street.” We moved out of the house that day. The man was arrested about a year later, after at least two more home invasions. This is important to understand because, especially in the 80’s, victim-blaming was much worse than it is today…but it’s still a powerful force today. Victim-blaming enables rapists, and the police can be just as guilty of victim-blaming as anyone else. I still firmly believe that the serial rapist was the same man who had been staring at our house the following day. There should have been no more home invasions!
We later learned that the serial rapist was a local high school student who had been walking past our house each day on his way home from school. Because of his large size, everyone had wrongly concluded that he was older. The break-in had been methodically planned during his daily walks past our house. It wasn’t “random.”
In a previous post, I wrote about the three phases of sexual violence, the first being a “build-up” or “lead-up” phase. Acknowledging this phase is crucial to stopping a crime before it ever happens. Many schools and advocate programs have tried to educate others about this through teaching “Bystander Intervention.” Below is a basic chart that shows the phases of decision-making through Bystander Awareness. It’s interesting to note that we all have a tendency to follow the crowd. If no-one else around us senses impending danger, most of us don’t want to rock the boat.
There were several other times in “Broken Sand Dollar” – in totally unrelated incidents – that I stood in a crowd, felt impending danger, but felt very alone. Why? Because I didn’t want to “rock the boat.” And Bystander Intervention is not something that I ever I ever imagined could happen because it’s human nature to do otherwise in a crowd: remain calm. Bystander Intervention rarely happens, and that needs to change.