In my new book, No Zebras! Engaging Bystanders in the Movement to End Sexual Aggression, I explain how bystander behavior is much like the zebra herd that stands by watching one of their own getting attacked by a lion. Bystanders distance themselves from the attack by making excuses for the behavior of the victim zebra as “being different or simply being stupid asking for it.” Bystanders are thankful it is not them. I use this analogy to describe how many people respond when someone is being set up for sexual assault at a bar or party, or when someone talks about stalking someone, or when knowing of or witnessing a person being bullied or harassed. In almost all cases of aggression, there are people that know and choose to do nothing.
The zebra analogy is especially relevant today. Over a week ago, police officers murdered a
human being while people stood by watching, many using their phones to record the event. Like the gutless zebras herd, bystanders at the scene distanced themselves by either making Mr. Floyd somehow responsible for the behavior of those bad cops or maybe simply thinking it is none of their business. Regardless, many people stood by and did absolutely nothing. What if one of the police officers stepped up to stop it? What if one of the bystanders stepped up and pushed the cop off of Mr. Floyd’s neck? Mr. Floyd would most likely be alive today and the thousands of people affected by rioters would have their businesses and livelihoods still intact.
Bystander action- and INaction can make all the difference in the world in how an outcome plays out. It is what differentiates us as civilians. Think of the world civil in civilians and no further explanation is necessary.
Instead of stepping down and being bystanders in life, we need to step up and be responsible for not only our own behavior but also the behavior of those over whom we can influence. Treating people the way we want to be treated and the way we want people we care about treated is simple but no truer than today.
I will never stand down when I see someone being assaulted, stalked, bullied, harassed or “choked”. Will you pledge to do the same?
#DontStandBy No more Zebras!