bystander intervention · community education · Sexual Assault

“Why didn’t I see this?” Understanding Bystander Guilt

Latrobe Valley Express reported 12 June 2018 in reference to “Former teacher jailed for child pornography”. This piece is not related to the actual crimes referred to above, but more to the potentially extensive impacts of such crimes.

Serious and abhorrent crimes such as this by persons in positions of authority and trust, especially against children, naturally immediately affect and impact upon those who have been abused.  They also impact heavily on those who care for and support those who have been directly abused.   In addition, persons in the community who have themselves experienced similar and other types of sexual abuse may experience a prolonging and/or reactivation of distress.  As a community, we collectively think of them, feel concern and care for them, and wish them care in their recovery.

The indirect impacts continue; and as a community it is important to recognise, to consider, to accommodate for, and to discuss these.

In this instance, it is not unlikely that individuals and organisations who have, or have had a relationship with the person who has abused, are all experiencing a gamut of feelings and thoughts.  This is to be expected.  They are normal reactions to what we want to think of as abnormal events.  Crimes such as this violate our shared values and cultural norms.  Immediate reactions might include a sense of an absolute betrayal of trust, guilt and shame by association, and perhaps loss of confidence in ourselves, each other and our systems.  People may be asking themselves a variety of questions that include ‘How did I not know this was happening?; Why didn’t I pick this/see this?; Why didn’t I stop this?; How could I have been so stupid not to know?’.

A response to consider may be that persons who actively seek to deceive and harm others in the community may do just this, and do succeed in this.  While societally we may have a number of checks and balances in place to mitigate the risk of harm, they are not failsafe, and do not predict.  It is not because we are ‘stupid’ or whatever, it is because generally, as people, we fundamentally want to ‘trust’ in the other.  If we held each other suspect continually, it is sobering to think of what we may become.

It is a time for people and community to consciously come together, to look after each other.

If this piece raises issues for yourself or others in your circle, phone numbers that may assist are:

Gippsland Centre against Sexual Assault 51343922

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

LIFELINE 13 11 14

BEYOND BLUE 1300 22 4636

Morwell SOCIT 5120 0351

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