Victim Apathy Is One Of The Greatest Challenges Victims Face
The Bystander Effect
The bystander effect, which is another way to look at this apathy, occurs when the presence of others discourages an individual from intervening in an emergency situation, against a bully, or during an assault or other crime. It can prevent them from even helping themself! The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any one of them to provide help to a person in distress. People are more likely to take action in a crisis when there are few or no other witnesses present. Of course, on the internet, there is an almost infinite number of people – so we see this phenomenon constantly, including with scam victims.
This effect is also a component in scam victims sitting back and not participating in their own recovery.
Understanding the Bystander Effect
Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley popularized the concept of the bystander effect following the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964. The 28-year-old woman was stabbed to death outside her apartment; at the time, it was reported that dozens of neighbors failed to step in to assist or call the police.
Latané and Darley attributed the bystander effect to two factors:
- diffusion of responsibility and
- social influence
The perceived diffusion of responsibility means that the more onlookers there are, the less personal responsibility individuals will feel to take action. Social influence means that individuals monitor the behavior of those around them to determine how to act.
We see this constantly in support groups where the scam victims simply sit back and let others participate.
Why do people fail to help in an emergency or take action that could help?
It’s natural for people to freeze or go into shock when seeing someone having an emergency or being attacked. This is usually a response to fear—the fear that you are too weak to help, that you might be misunderstanding the context and seeing a threat where there is none, or even that intervening will put your own life in danger.
What situational factors contribute to the bystander effect?
It can be hard to tease out the many reasons people fail to take action, but when it comes to sexual assault against women, research has shown that witnesses who are male, hold sexist attitudes, the same tends to be true when the victim is of a different race, or the bystanders are under the influence of drugs or alcohol they are less likely to actively help a woman who seems too incapacitated to consent to sexual activity.
People who have been traumatized in the past often will fall back into the freeze response and this prevents them from taking action. But also people, in general, have a fear of standing out in many contexts – this is called the “Tall Poppy Syndrome” – see below.
Can the bystander effect ever be positive?
The same factors that lead to the bystander effect can be used to increase helping behaviors. Individuals are more likely to behave well when they feel themselves being watched by “the crowd,” and when their actions align with their social identities. For example, someone who identifies as pro-environment will take more effort to recycle when they believe they are being observed.
What makes bystanders more likely to intervene against bullying?
Good people can be complicit in bad behavior (hence the common “just following orders” excuse). Someone who speaks up against bullying is called an “upstander.” Upstanders have confidence in their judgment and values and believe their actions will make a difference. They are more likely to do the right thing because they take the time to stop and think before acting.
How to Be an Active Bystander
The intervention of bystanders is often the only reason why bullying and other crimes cease. The social and behavioral paralysis described by the bystander effect can be reduced with awareness and, in some cases, explicit training. Secondary schools and college campuses encourage students to speak up when witnessing an act of bullying or a potential assault.
One technique is to behave as if one is the first or only person witnessing a problem. Often, when one person takes action, if only to shout, “Hey, what’s going on?” or “The police are coming,” others may be emboldened to take action as well. That said, an active bystander is most effective when they assume that they themselves are the sole person taking charge; giving direction to other bystanders to assist can, therefore, be critically important.
How can you avoid being a passive bystander?
Don’t expect others to be the first to act in a crisis—just saying “Stop” or “Help is on the way” can prevent further harm. Speak up using a calm, firm tone. Give others directions to get them involved in helping too. Do your best to ensure the safety of the victim, and don’t be afraid to seek assistance when you need it.
Is it wrong not to help in an emergency?
If a bystander can help someone without risking their own life and chooses not to, they are usually considered morally guilty. But the average person is typically under no legal obligation to help in an emergency – however, this varies depending on the place, some US states have laws that make a bystander liable for their inaction. Also, some places have adopted duty-to-rescue laws, making it a crime not to help a person in need.
“Tall Poppy Syndrome”
The tall poppy syndrome is a cultural phenomenon in which people hold back, criticize or sabotage those who have or are believed to have achieved notable success in one or more aspects of life, particularly intellectual or cultural wealth; “cutting down the tall poppy”.
We see the tall poppy syndrome playing a role in scam victim recovery too, where victims in a group often sit silently out of fear they will be noticed and become the focal point of the group.
Tall Poppy Syndrome: When You Get Cut Down for Standing Out
Getting recognized for your accomplishments should be a cause for celebration. So why does it sometimes feel like your successes have made you the target of criticism, gossip, or downright sabotage? You may be experiencing the social phenomenon known as “Tall Poppy Syndrome.”
Young adults are particularly vulnerable to Tall Poppy Syndrome. Competition for grades and awards in college, or for promotions early in their career, can catalyze Tall Poppy Syndrome behaviors. And because young adults are still building their confidence and competence, they’re more likely to struggle with feelings of insecurity or envy. Understanding the emotions motivating people who put others down can help you take steps to protect your mental health from people who criticize others. But we also see the same thing in recovering scam victims.
What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when a person’s success causes them to be attacked, resented, or criticized. Cutting people down devalues someone else’s achievement by suggesting that they did not deserve the attention. And it can discourage them from striving for future achievements that would attract further attention to themselves.
A 2018 report investigating the extent of Tall Poppy Syndrome in Canadian workplaces found that nearly 9 out of 10 of those surveyed (mostly women) felt that their achievements were undermined in the workplace. Nearly as many reported being left out, ignored, or silenced after a success. Women and men were equally likely to engage in the behavior, both as co-workers and supervisors. About half of the respondents said that even their friends had participated in cutting them down. One in 10 acknowledged they had done it to others.
The Effects of Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Victims of Tall Poppy Syndrome feel the effects of the behavior far beyond the context in which it occurs. Survey respondents noted the following far-ranging effects:
- A general loss of confidence
- Uncontrollable tics
- Substance abuse
- Physical symptoms, such as headaches or digestion problems
- Symptoms of PTSD
- Relationship problems.
In addition, many people report holding back their true potential to avoid being cut down by others—for example, by not applying for a promotion or staying silent when others take credit for their ideas.
Tall Poppy’s Meaning and Origins
Tall Poppy Syndrome gets its name from a story told about King Tarquin the Proud, the ancient Roman tyrant, by the historian Livy. Tarquin’s son Sextus was infiltrating the leadership in a neighboring city and asked his father what he should do next. Tarquin did not say anything, but went into his garden and cut the heads off all the tallest poppies with his sword. Sextus took that to mean he should destroy the leading aristocrats of the city, which he did. Rome then easily overtook the city.
Not only does Tall Poppy Syndrome behavior go back to ancient times, but it also appears in cultures around the world. The Japanese expression, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down,” refers to something similar. The phenomenon is also sometimes described as “crab bucket mentality,” referring to the behavior of crabs in a bucket: A lid is not needed because if one gets close to escaping, the other crabs will pull it back down into the bucket.
This behavior is incredibly pervasive in scam victim communities, such as the “anti-scam hate groups” that exist by the thousands on Facebook and Instagram. These same tall poppy behaviors are seen to function without limits in most of these groups. However, by understanding the psychology of this and other destructive aspects individuals can help themselves correct this for a more complete recovery.
The Apathy of Scam Victims
Let’s look a little deeper into this
The Bystander Effect, or bystander apathy, as well as the Tall Poppy Syndrome, are social psychological theories that help explain why individuals are less likely to offer help to themselves or to another victim.
Apathy in Crime Reporting
Most victims seem to believe that it is too much trouble to report these crimes – it is Somebody Else’s Problem to do it. When it comes to participating to truly help others, most victims profess that they want to help others when given the opportunity, but few actually do – most remain silent. When opportunities to work together on advocacy activities, such as contacting congress or parliament or playing an activist role under the guidance of an organization such as SCARS or others, most victims do nothing. Most victims also do not support real nonprofit organizations that can help them or other victims. In short, most victims do nothing to really improve the situation.
The underlying issues with this are known, but the problem is communicating it to the victims both in general and to specific individuals. In most cases, these critiques are positive and constructive, but because of grief reactions, victims often react with withdrawal or hostility. Only through education, support, and trauma counseling can victims truly understand how often they work against themselves and the overall goals of helping all victims and reducing scams.
Ambiguity and Consequences
Ambiguity is one factor that affects whether or not a person assists another in need or even themself in specific cases, or in more general situations.
In some cases of high ambiguity, it can take a person or group up to five times longer before taking action than in cases of low ambiguity. In these cases, people determine their own interests before proceeding. This seems to mean that the majority will only act if it is easy, requires no effort, has immediate and tangible results, and makes them feel good. Questions of duty or responsibility are disregarded. Even their duty to their own future is rarely considered. People are more likely to intervene in low ambiguity situations/insignificant consequence situations rather than in high ambiguity significant consequence situations.
Research suggested that in ambiguous situations, people may look to one another for guidance, and misinterpret others’ lack of initial response as a lack of concern. This causes each person to decide that the situation is not serious.
In scam victims, we see this deflected action in the amateur anti-scam groups that were founded by angry victims out for some form of revenge – other victims see this as a low-impact activity believing it will have an immediate result, and ignore the real solutions that are effective but do not feel as consequential. As more victims flock to the amateurs it creates a climate of gradual frustration that results in even further apathy.
Even in real scam victim support groups, most victims sit in the background and fail to participate in what clearly can help restore their lives. It is all just too much effort – they have other things to do – other priorities instead of their own recovery. Only in groups where the majority is very active, do we see this momentum carried over to those sitting in the background. But if the majority is mostly silent, we see this dominance.
As has been described above, people are complicated, especially scam victims suffering from trauma and going through grief.
Support providers, such as SCARS, do everything within our power and resources to educate victims about the consequences of their actions and behaviors after their scam ended, but in many cases, it is just not enough. When that is the case, victims must find local trauma counseling or therapy to help them both understand what their behaviors and psychology mean, and how to stay on course to recover from these experiences. Without this, scam victims become their own worst enemies – this is the reason that over 75% of scam victims do not successfully recover.