Is it the sexual nature of these crimes that paralyzes people? Maybe, but many people walk away even when witnessing the crime is less fraught with embarrassment -- it's common enough for bystanders to ignore when a victim is being beaten, robbed, raped, or murdered. There are a few Good Samaritans out there, but not nearly enough.
The fear of getting involved seems to be paramount in discouraging people to intervene, even when they know they should. Has it always been so? It's tempting to think we used to be better about doing what is right, but it's not clear that is so.
Almost 50 years ago in New York, Kitty Genovese, a young woman, was raped and murdered as some people watching from nearby apartment windows ignored her screams. And mob lynchings in the United States -- complete with crowds egging the murderers on -- were shockingly common in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, occurring as late as 1964.
What this says about human behavior is sobering. Edmund Burke is often credited with saying, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Certainly the good men at Penn State did far too little to protect children. Each of us should remember this the next time we see something happening we know is wrong. It often takes only one person to do the right thing for others to follow. But each of us, individually, has to assume the responsibility to be that one person when the occasion arises.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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