Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is an Emergency or Crime taking place?


My first response when I read these questions was “Well of course! Anyone witnessing a crime should obviously do something about it, help stop it instantly!”

After a moment I took a step back and really thought about it I realized the fear people would have about intervening and the whole “put your own oxygen mask on before helping others” concept and applying it to other situations.

When it comes to answering questions like this, one really has to think about the different situations this might occur in. It takes time and critical thinking, sometimes even a bit of research. It is a never ending debate, almost like science or religion? Should people intervene, do the right thing and help? But what if they get hurt? But the other person definitely will if we don’t help… To think on your feet in a dangerous situation is difficult. It needs a person to be calm, quick and smart about their decisions which is problematic when you’re in a situation like that.

Reasons why people might not stop the crime 

At the same time, morals and ethics come into being. Here is where we need to know how to draw the line between self preservation and selflessness. To help stop a crime is always a good thing but it can hurt you in many ways, for example if someone is attempting a murder and one tries to stop it, they in turn can be harmed. Another reason why bystanders don’t bother to stop a crime is usually because the person committing a crime is their friend, the person thinks that what they’re doing is wrong but won’t stop their friend because they might have a fight and could cause some distress between them which makes the friendship uncomfortable or even over. For example, when people bully in school, why do none of the other students stop the bullying? Either because they’re too scared they might get bullied, because it’s their friend who is the one bullying or because a majority of teens would rather blend into the crowd then stand out, therefore making them do nothing if nobody else steps up.

A lot of the times the bystanders are so shocked they don’t how to help or what to do, almost as if their brain is paralyzed and by the time they realize what is happening or happened it was too late. Recently there have been a lot of news about how people are doing horrific acts of raping, molesting, killing or hurting innocent women and children in public in rural areas and nothing is being done to stop it. To take it one step further even on social media there have been live screenings of suicides and rapes which amassed a large audience who just watch and participate without bothering to report it.

Bystanders Effect

After a little bit of research, I found out what was called the Bystanders Effect, it says that the more people present the less likely people are going to help out someone in distress. It also makes the person feel like they aren’t good enough to help the person suffering. There are two reasons why this occurs, it scatters the responsibility of helping the person in distress, therefore one person thinks that some other person present will do it and vice versa resulting in nobody helping out. Second being the socially acceptable behavior, if nobody is helping, should I? Is it acceptable? Will it be socially wrong to help them and will I get hurt due to helping this person? The Bystander Effect seems like something that would affect only under confident people, people with low self-esteem showing us that mental health plays a big role. The Bystander effect is simply a mind game and people can overcome it by being strong headed with the right morals. Which brings us to the whole discussion of what actually are correct morals? Because people can have different opinions on what is ‘right’. People shouldn’t be scared to help another human, they should do it because it is the right thing to do, but maybe not at the cost of their lives.

Concluding the answer 

I concluded this topic in my head by thinking that bystanders should not be legally forced to help but morally or ethically driven to help. Maybe not by putting themselves in danger but even small steps by calling the police or reporting the crime. Intervening is neither an urge nor an incentive/obligation, it is a choice where the most important responsibility falls onto the person watching, I understand that anyone would be overwhelmed by this situation and this is exactly how a person’s morals and ethics can be tested or ‘come into play’ To be completely honest, this responsibility depends from case to case, sometimes intervening might just be the worst thing, or the best thing.


  1. Does it not depend on the severity of the situation?
    For example if someone is shoplifting or robbing a store then yes they should intervene but if it’s a robbery at gunpoint then no.


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