I saw this South African PSA linked on feministing, and I think it merits sharing as much as possible. As noted in the commentary on feministing,
Of course it’s tempting to believe that, unlike those people in that neighborhood or thatcountry or that part of the world, we would do something. But the reason POWA’s video is so troubling—and powerful—is that while it’s obvious that someone should have intervened, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not at all clear that we would have.
This I find particularly chilling. I think a lot of the time, people look at cases of domestic abuse and think, "Wow. Why couldn't she leave?" and blame battered-wife-syndrome and all that and don't look at the larger picture. Often there are other people involved in these couples' lives, who either know or suspect what's happening. Friends, family, neighbors... shouldn't we be thinking, "Wow. Why didn't they do anything?"
Last year, ABC released a program called What Would You Do? about witnessing (staged) ethical problems like racism or domestic abuse, and showed how passersby reacted. I first learned about this program while at an event put on my my university's Muslim Student Association. The MSA showed the program in which What Would You Do? dealt with a woman wearing a headscarf (an actress) is yelled at by a store owner (actor) who calls her racial slurs and other unfortunately uncommon insults. Some people in the store watch, while only a couple people ever intervene. After we watched the program, the MSA opened it up to discussion. If you saw that happening, what would you do?
The question was posed to everyone, but I felt like as I was one of the only non-Muslims and non-MSA members in the room, that I should enter the discussion. So I raised my hand and got called on. "Unless I thought saying something could potentially instigate violence... I would say something," I said. This was another thing we had discussed in FMLA, when one girl said she suspected that her neighbor was being beaten by her husband or boyfriend. The general consensus was that she should call the police the next time she heard it happen, but trying to establish contact with the woman could turn out to be potentially dangerous for both the woman and her.
And that is the tricky part of being a stander-by. When is it more harmful to do something than not? I would hope that all people would watch that video and think to themselves they would do something. But the truth is... would you? Fear is a powerful and dangerous deterrent. I hope that I would react in some helpful and honorable way if I were ever to be put in a situation where I was witnessing or listening to someone being abused, but I also hope that I never have to find out.