Like the passive zebras who watch as a lion devours one of their own, we humans frequently do the same. Five years ago this month, a young woman had the courage to come forward and tell people about the well-respected Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics team doctor, Dr. Larry Nassar, sexually assaulting her. Rachael Denhollander was ignored by USA Gymnastics, multiple individuals at Michigan State University, agents within the FBI and who knows how many others. Over 100 young women were preyed upon by Dr. Nassar. What if one person in authority had decided to engage instead of ignoring? What we see here is yet another example of bystander behavior Would Dr. Nassar have been stopped before so many young women were harmed? I would hope the answer is yes.
Unfortunately, no one did engage, and now many young lives have been adversely affected by this predator. How many more times will we see and hear about people being harmed while others knew about it and deliberately chose to ignore and do nothing?
“Do unto others…”, “treat people the way you want people close to you treated” are principles to live by. Unfortunately, it seems these statements are dismissed by people choosing to do nothing while knowing or observing someone being harmed. It is easy to distance ourselves from behavior we recognize as wrong when we do not allow ourselves to relate to the victim; it is easier to turn away or blame the victim than to believe them.
Unfortunately, most people simply do nothing while ignoring or minimizing what the Nassar’s of the world are doing. We must all take crimes such as Nassar’s and acknowledge it could happen to someone we know. The police who stood by while Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd are just as complicit as he is. No longer should we dismiss such behavior by fooling ourselves into thinking these things always happen to someone else; that it will never be anyone we care about. Every victim, every person targeted by a predator or bad cop is someone else’s “someone else”. If we all take these issues personally, the behavior of bad people can be eliminated. Let’s end the zebra bystander behavior right now.
Read Steve Thompsons book No Zebras!: Engaging Bystanders in the Movement to End Sexual Aggression
Bring No Zebras to your campus or community Programs available via Zoom as well