4 Harsh Truths about Bystanders and Witnesses of Bullying

bystander effect

You not only never forget the bullies, but you also remember the people who were there- the people who had the power to help you but did nothing. Many times, the bystanders who saw it never tried to intervene and stop the attacks, nor did they speak up on my behalf.

As much as I hate to say it, I was guilty of the same thing. When I watched a few others get bullied, I said and did nothing, thinking that my voice wouldn’t make a difference if I did speak up. Other times, I was just damn glad that, for a change, I wasn’t the one targeted and that it was someone else taking heat for a change.

For this, I am very remorseful and would like to apologize to all the other targets I left to fend for themselves. I’m truly sorry.

Bullying Poster Concept Illustration bystanders

Here are the reasons bystanders do nothing to help a target of bullying:

1. They’re afraid of arousing the bullies’ anger and becoming the next target. No one wants to be a target of bullying. I get that. Many bystanders fear getting involved, and for good reasons. However, many bystanders do have some power because they’re high on the social hierarchy.

And the higher you are in the pecking order, the more weight your actions and words carry. So, why not use your power to help the target? Because if you’re extremely popular, the chances are that other bystanders will follow your lead and join you, and the bully will leave the victim alone. There’s strength in numbers.

2. The bystanders see the bullies’ torment of the target as entertainment. Bullies always bully in front of an audience to humiliate the target. During altercations between bullies and targets, bystanders immediately gather around to watch it go down.

Most bystanders then stand around, laughing and pointing fingers. Many of them cheer and egg the bully on, stirring it up to get more entertainment, all of which only encourages the bully to continue and even escalate the abuse.

As long as it isn’t them getting dogged out or having their brains beat in, most bystanders think it’s funny to see it happen to someone else.

Silhouette of two hands with smartphones, shoot a video on a sinking person’s hand, asking for help. The concept of a selfish society, a social problem

It’s the reason that instead of helping the target, bystanders will automatically whip out their smartphones and record the confrontation. They can then watch it later, send the film to their friends, and have another big laugh over it.

But! It’s not the least bit funny to the target. It’s painful and humiliating. It can be devastating to a victim who has already been a target of bullying for an extended time and can drive them over the edge.

3. The bystanders themselves either dislike or hate the target. In many cases, bullies have run vicious smear campaigns and turned everyone against their victims. When an altercation finally breaks out, the bystanders refuse to help the target because they think she deserves the abuse. Many times, these bystanders secretly or openly take pleasure in seeing the target suffer.

They may stand around snickering or join the bullies in tormenting the target. Often, the bullies are only doing to the victim what many bystanders wish they had the stones to do themselves. So, they get complete satisfaction in seeing someone else attack the target. Bystanders often hate the victim so much that they would defend a total stranger before protecting the victim they hate so intensely.

4. They don’t want to get involved. Many bystanders figure that it’s none of their business and choose not to get involved. These bystanders are so indifferent that they won’t even stop and watch. They will only pass by and keep going. They don’t care. Period.

Understand that bullies always perform in front of an audience to show their superiority, strength, and power. Bystanders who do nothing to stop the attacks only silently support and encourage the bullies. These bystanders are just as guilty as the psycho bullies who perpetuate the attacks.

Often, bystanders either don’t understand or underestimate the power they have, especially in large numbers. When witnesses speak up for the target, the bullies will likely stop and leave the target alone.

With knowledge comes empowerment!

59 thoughts on “4 Harsh Truths about Bystanders and Witnesses of Bullying

  1. It doesn’t just apply to bullying alone. It took the death of one Kitty Genovese back in the 60s to reveal the dark truth about why bystanders opt to avoid getting involved.

  2. Hi Cherie
    Every point you make is a valid point. I’ve never been a victim of physical bullying but there was verbal bullying because of my ethnicity and weight and was laughed at in the office by not only the bully but other colleagues too. The comment was laughing at how I could be a “fat vegetarian”
    My brother was bullied in his class by the teacher and humiliated info t of the whole class by being made to stand on the desk and sometimes caned for being late or not producing homework. And I got caned in the canteen behind the counter by the same teacher for breaking the rules of queuing after sports class. This was in Uganda and the work bullying was in the UK.

  3. There are third world countries where people in authority use their power to bully the meek and poor. And school bullying by teachers and head teachers is so prevalent, it’s dis-heartening.

    • Thank you so much, Alan. My heart goes out to you for the bullying you suffered. You didn’t deserve it and you didn’t “bring it on yourself,” like some many people like to tell targets of bullying. I hope that you found peace and happiness later.

  4. I think it is times like that when you find out who your true friends and family are. Maybe we just don’t have the maturity when we are young but none of us have that many true friends. Even the most popular kids, a lot of it is on a shallow, superficial level. Watch out for those that claim they are your friend in private but in public join along with the crowd or stand back and watch a so called friend get tortured. And if you are a person of character sometimes you have to get involved.

  5. I must admit that I spent the first 11 years of my life as a bully at school. I had very few friends because of it. I’m not trying to use this as an excuse, but I know now that I was acting out the bullying and abuse that I was enduring at home to the other children that I was very jealous of. That said, I am also someone who stands up to bullies, often to my own peril. Maybe I am trying to atone for my earlier bullying sins, but I think I just can’t tolerate injustice and feel the need to stand up for any and all that are being mistreated.

    Great points in your post, and I especially feel the memes about those that would rather film a sinking person than save them. A sad testament to the times, to be sure.

  6. Sadly, those who stand around, watching an injustice occur and are complicit are just as guilty for doing nothing, when they can do something. Sometimes, folks think that because it’s not happening to them, it’s not their problem. Oh, how mistaken they are. Very good post Cherie my dear! 🤗💖🥰

  7. Brilliant My nephew is a bully I stormed out one day when he was laughing at someone vulnerable it made my stomach seize up.. I am only now seeing how he has bullied my sister this entire time.. This post as made it so clear to me…

  8. Pingback: Bullying and “The Audience Effect” - Chateau Cherie

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