Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Keeping Mum: Courage required

Nobody stepped in to stop the assault taking place.
Photo / Stephen Parker
Nobody stepped in to stop the assault taking place. Photo / Stephen Parker

There are many reasons given for why no-one intervened in the Rotorua incident recently where a young woman was beaten in front of a bus stop-full of people by another woman.

Psychologists were wheeled out to say it was a case of "bystander apathy" - people deferring responsibility to others when in a group; others think it is a sign of how callous we have become as a society. At least two people had the wherewithal to call the police, which is encouraging, but not nearly fast enough to stop the beating.

But is the bystanders' reluctance to leap in simply a fear of beating beaten, of not knowing precisely who you are dealing with in the given situation? Perhaps this woman was thought to be part of a gang (apparently she has some gang connections) or just looked like she would give anyone else a good hiding too? (Amazingly, she didn't give the photographer, who captured her full frontal, a thump). Then, still playing on a mind of many would-be good Samaritans, the horrible case of Austin Hemmings, who leapt into save a woman from a brutal slaying and copped it himself.

Recently a friend told me someone she knew had witnessed a man viciously kick his son at St Lukes Mall in Auckland, in full view of shoppers. No one stepped in to help. The first reaction to a story such as this is a chill, as you realise a father willing to do this in public may well do God knows what else in private.

Then, you might wonder about what you, yourself, would do in a similar situation. Most of us would like to think we would intervene, especially on behalf of a child, but how many of us really would? Or could? Under the law this type of man is actually committing a crime - imagine being able to do a citizen's arrest with a group of like-minded bystanders and holding him 'til the cops arrive?! I thought at the very least, if it were me, I would provide a description of the offender to mall security and let them deal with it. Which is probably a bit of a cop out, and also quite useless. Not only could the man and child navigate in the mall in less time than it would take me to track down a security guard while dragging three children behind me, but knowing my luck I would probably only be able to find one of the seemingly dozens of petite guards malls inexplicably hire, rather than a slightly more menacing model.

I constantly hope that I am never put in a position to have to step in in such a situation because I know if I did the wrong thing I could never forgive myself. I would also lose faith in the human race if we were to openly allow vulnerable people to be beaten without venturing to put our own necks on the line. But the real answer is that we probably never know how brave we could really be before being in that unfortunate situation for real ourselves.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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