Bystander Backlash


November 8, 2016


It’s the middle of the week, and you’re shopping for groceries. As you’re pushing your cart through the aisles and minding your own business, you see a mother screaming at her toddler, a man violently shaking his wife, or a woman berating an elderly man. What do you do? Do you step in and say something? Tell the store manager? Call the police? Or do nothing?

At Bay Alarm Medical, we wondered how we might react to social injustice or an extreme situation. Are people prone to stepping in or staying out of things? When we see something that looks dangerous, what do we do? And how bad does it have to get before we take action?

We asked over 2,000 people just that. Here’s what we learned.


What would you do if you witnessed an extreme situation or social injustice in public? According to our findings, 31 percent of survey respondents indicated they’d passively monitor the situation.Another 22 percent said they’d do nothing, 21 percent would call for help, and 21 percent claim they’d step in.

Women – a group that often reports feeling less safe than their male counterparts when engaging in everyday activities like walking down the street – were slightly more likely to passively monitor a situation, much more likely to call for help, and somewhat less likely to step in.


When we segmented our data by religion, we found that the group most likely to do nothing in the face of social injustice or an extreme situation were those who identified as Hindu. Respondents from this faith were over 30 percent more likely to do nothing than any other religious group. However, Hindus were also more likely – by roughly 30 percent – to take action and step in than any other group.

Agnostics were most likely the passively monitor a situation, followed by Jews, then Christian (Protestants). Hindus were the only group from which the majority of survey respondents said that they would step in. It may be that they understand what it’s like to be the victims of injustice.

HOW POLITICS IMPACT OUR REACTIONBystander Behavior_asset extra

When it comes to political leanings, the split isn’t as noticeable. Republicans are about 4 percent more likely to call for help, while Democrats were slightly more likely to passively monitor (31 percent) the situation or provide comfort (6 percent).

SPECTATORSHIP, BY STATEBystander Behavior_asset3

When we looked at the data by state, we discovered that respondents from New Hampshire, Montana, Wyoming, Delaware, and Hawaii were more likely to step in when witnessing an extreme situation or social injustice.

On the other side of the spectrum, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and Arkansashad the lowest percentage of respondents willing to step in. Three of these states rank among the most dangerous in the nation, and people may be afraid that their heroics could be met with violence.


Americans react much differently when the aggressor is a man versus a woman – and this possibly may have something to do with the fact that men commit significantly more violent crimes than women and tend to be physically larger.

If we witness a man getting aggressive in public, we’re about 40 percent more likely to call the police or security and more than twice as likely to physically step in to stop the violence. With female aggressors, we’re most likely – by a large margin – to stay out of it but keep an eye out in case things escalate. We’re also twice as likely to stay out of it altogether, citing that it’s none of our business.

ANIMALS OR PEOPLE: WHO DO WE DEFEND?Bystander Behavior_asset5

When we asked our survey takers what they would do if they witnessed violence against a person, the vast majority said they’d call the police or security (35 percent) or stay out of things but keep an eye out in case things escalated (28 percent). Would we do the same if it was a dog getting kicked, smacked, or otherwise assaulted?

The answer is yes – sort of. Respondents were still very likely to call security (28 percent) or stay out of it but keep an eye out in case it escalated (16 percent). But with a dog, people were also much more likely to step in themselves and tell the aggressor to stop (20 percent).


With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the current press coverage of heartbreaking stories of innocent men shot with their hands up and a man detained by police for jogging at night, the U.S. is arguably more aware of racial injustice than ever before. What would we do if we saw it playing out right in front of us, though?

The scenario is this: You’re in the park when you witness a black person being harassed by police for seemingly no reason – what do you do?

Many of our survey respondents – about 60 percent – said they’d stay out of it. About 20 percent said it was none of their business, 21 percent indicated that the police must have a good reason for detaining that person, 13 percent admitted they’d stay out of it but would go home and contact the police, the media, or a law office, and 6 percent said they would try to forget it ever happened.

Finally, 24 percent said they’d film the encounter and reach out to the media or share it online.


It’s hard to say what we’d do in an extreme situation. If you witnessed harassment, violence, or an outright crime, what do you think you’d do?

If our survey is any indication, you’d probably care enough to keep an eye out, but would hold back until help arrived.

Of course, we hope you never have to find out. Which is why we’re dedicated to making the world a little bit safer – at least in your home – with Bay Alarm Medical life alert systems. Because like our survey respondents, we think keeping an eye out is an important thing to do.


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