Il n’est pas dans mes habitudes de m’impliquer dans notre société, mais un « examen » sur Coursera vient m’en offrir le prétexte. En effet j’ai commencé à suivre le cours d’introduction à la psychologie, donné par le professeur Steve Joordens (University of Toronto, Canada). Ce cours est vraiment excellent et je reviendrai plus tard sur le sujet. Une partie de l’évaluation consiste à produire un commentaire sur un événement récent auquel on doit rattacher un des concepts étudiés dans le cours : l’objectif est de produire un texte court (environ une page) qui situe le contexte, qui rappelle la notion en question, qui fait le lien entre les deux et finalement qui explique en quoi on aurait pu améliorer ce qui s’est passé.
J’ai choisi de mettre en relation l’effet du témoin et le viol d’une jeune fille dans la ville de Steubenville (États-Unis) au cours d’une soirée l’été dernier. Même si cela ne m’étonne guère venant de notre société et des valeurs qui y sont défendues, cette affaire m’a suffisamment marqué pour me donner envie de partager le commentaire que j’ai écrit, ainsi que divers liens sur le sujet (en anglais et en français : voir à la fin de l’article), en espérant que ça pourra contribuer un peu à une prise de conscience – par contre je n’ai pas le courage de le traduire.
In previous August a terrible story teared apart the Steubenville city: celebrating the end of summer through a big party, many teenagers came and got drunk. In the crowd some were players from the local football team, which is a very important subject for the citizens there. Two of the athletes took profit that a girl was totally drunk to bring her from party to party, carrying her like a “dead” object, and to rape her several time, without worrying that others were looking. Moreover during all this insane case they took pictures and videos, and they were sending message to social networks, using words such as “rape”, “sloppy girl”. This girl did not remember anything of the night, but her mother found photos of her and decided to file a claim. But first no one worry about this story, arguing that it was the fault of this girl of being drunk and going alone to a party, and furthermore all clues were removed from internet. Later the Anonymous group found back these proofs and used them to draw again attention on this case, and, finally, few months ago (in march) the two athletes have been handed as guilty; but many people continued to humiliate the girl and many were regretting that the lifes of both men would be destroyed.
There are several points worth of discussion concerning this event, among them the conditioning of our society to ambient machismo which makes men believe that girls are just here to satisfy their pleasure (but this is too close from the example given by the teacher), the sense of power people have when then are anonymous on the internet (in both directions, i.e. Anonymous members or the teenagers), the diffusion of responsability or that we tend to find pretext to minimize the crime of some people. But I will follow another path which is the passiveness of the witnesses, explained by the bystander effect. This law states that the more numerous are people watching a victim, the less is the probability that someone intervene to help it. Attention was first drawn on this effect in 1964 in relation to the murder of Kitty Genovese: she has been stabbed to death near her house while no neighbor tried to call the police or do something. Few years later two researchers in social psychology – John Darley and Bibb Latané – designed experiments to recreate this effect, in which for examples one man was suffering on the ground while people where passing nearby; they showed that the number of bystanders influences a lot the probability that someone acts: 85% for an individual, 60% in presence of another person, 30% for a group of five persons. This can be explained by the diffusion of responsibility: when many people are present they will assume that if no one else intervenes, then there is no reason for them to do so. And since everyone acts in this way, at the end nobody intervenes. Moreover other people will not be very implicated if they do not know personally the victim and they will not blame themselves for what happens since they will say “I’m not the only one to blame, other were also just sitting here”.
In the context of Steubenville rape, the bystander effect is useful to understand that no one among the other teenagers tried to intervene to make the two athletes cease to treat this girl like they were doing. Also one could explain this behavior by the fact that people could think that if no one else gets involved, it is surely because it is not that bad and so they could be thinking that it was just them who were too much sensible and that actually it is not worthy to make them stop. Furthermore in such kind of party students think that there are no barrier and that everyone should enjoy in any way they like, and, worse, most of the guests are strangers to them, and so they do not see the point to intervene. In a party the trend is to have fun with friends, not to care about ethical concerns, so guests do not want to be seen as the one who kill the good atmosphere, they prefer to act like the others, maybe hoping that someone else with more “right” (like the host or the organizers) will handle the situation.
In conclusion the study of this effect should have drawn the attention on the possibility of this kind of behavior (or any other inappropriate one) during parties. It is of the responsibility of the society to let teenagers understand that they have to intervene when it seems to them that the situation is becoming dangerous for other people, a fortiori when it is in a party where most of the people are drunk and have diminished cognitive abilities, which prevent them from really understanding that the current context is unsafe and unsuitable. Making teenagers understanding that all what happens in parties is not a game, and that it can have very profound consequences, is thus very important; and that one should not blame other or alcohol for not helping. Other points in this event like the one aforementioned call for a thinking on parties, but we shall not dwell on them.
- Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City (The New York Times)
- The Steubenville trial is over, but what drove a group of teenagers to “live-blog” a rape? (NewStatesman)
- Steubenville: this is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment (NewStatesman)
- Un crime sans importance (qui donne un lien vers une vidéo intitulée Une réponse nécessaire, qui est très pertinente).
- Tu seras violée ma fille.
- Steubenville ou le viol qui déchire l’Amérique (et qu’Anonymous entend bien dénoncer).