Why Bystanders Matter

The Bystander Effect


Most of us have heard of the BYSTANDER EFFECT.  It’s a sociological phenomenon that results in people tuning out and freezing when they are the most available and able to help someone in trouble.  We’ve all seen the news clips of a physical altercation happening while people stand by and observe, or worse, take out their phone to video the event. It jolts us when someone breaks out of the bystander role and behaves in a caring, decent way. A well-known case in point was when teenager, Keshia Thomas, a black woman, broke through a crowd to protect a white man thought to be a Ku Klux Klan member.  The image of Keshia breaking the bystander veil in 1996 is an iconic photo today.  She was rightfully named a hero that day and the photo of her heroic act has traveled the globe. She remained connected to the humanity of the man being attacked and responded from a place of courage and connectedness.


The Teenager who saved a man with an SS tattoo – https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-24653643

We know from more than a decade of loving and caring for people being prostituted and trafficked that the bystander effect is alive and well.  The women we care for so deeply are often invisible to most of the world. Tragically, some of their body parts hold value to people who have completely lost touch with their humanity.  But what about those of us who would never use women’s body parts in this way? What is our role in this tragedy?  We are the bystanders and we have the most power to bring about change.  Just like Keshia Thomas, we can act in ways that will interrupt the abuse and tragedy of prostitution and sex-trafficking.

We know that prostitution is primarily the exploitation of vulnerability.  While there are anomalies, the majority of girls and women being sold for sex have experienced, or are experiencing, sexual abuse, family abuse (neglect, physically or emotionally abusive homes), poverty, and drug addiction (sometimes forced). Pimps and traffickers use common tactics like “boyfriending” to prey on vulnerable girls and women.  They swoop in as a husband/father figure to protect and provide during a period called “grooming.”  Eventually, the “boyfriend” needs a favor or overtly forces his new prey into sexual servitude.  He is sure to have gotten her hooked on drugs and trauma-bonded her through abuse before he begins to sell her.  Then the shame and abusive power-dynamic hold her in unseen captivity.

Bystanders have a role in prevention, awareness, rescue, and rehabilitation

William_Wilberforce_quoteWe can all improve culture by being willing to look at the problem.  Aspects of this cultural problem should cause a lump in our throats and a pit in our stomachs, but if we refuse to see the humanity of the ones being victimized then we are a part of the problem.

Being willing to open our eyes to learn more about the lives of people trapped in prostitution and sex-trafficking acknowledges their humanity.  Before we can do anything else, we must acknowledge the humanity of these precious souls.

Prevention happens in many ways and we can all do a little something.  We can support children in foster care and those who have opened their homes to children in foster care.  A very large number of women being prostituted were at one time in the foster care system.  We have a societal responsibility to learn about and share the well-known link between pornography use and sex-trafficking/prostitution.  Few things dehumanize women more than porn.  The link between porn and prostitution is well-known and has been studied.  Each of us can share knowledge of this reality and encourage everyone to learn more.  We need to work together to bring down the giant of pornography.  The harm is incalculable.   Prevention can look like helping a troubled family get help.  Or finding educators to facilitate grooming awareness among vulnerable groups and all of society.  Technology safety is important as we continue to see predators locate vulnerable adolescents via social media.

Rescue takes a special calling and skill-set, but there are many organizations like Peace Promise available to step into the messy, gut-wrenching reality of rescue and rehabilitation.

Move from being a bystander to a helper

  1. Add the Human Trafficking Hotline number to your contacts 1-888-3737-888.
  2. Host a sex-trafficking documentary in your home, church, community group. We like Nefarious Merchant of Souls, but there is also Sex & Money and several others available.
  3. Invite Peace Promise to speak to your community group.
  4. Intervene when someone is in need of support.
  5. Support foster care and families who foster and adopt.
  6. Learn more about the harms of pornography and the link to prostitution.
  7. Say “NO!” to events that include strippers.
  8. Help families get healthy.
  9. Call the police if you are ever in question about someone’s safety.
  10. Contact an organization like Peace Promise for help with anyone you suspect is being exploited in prostitution. Victims often don’t self-identify.
  11. Learn more about the connection to the drug/opioid epidemic.
  12. Start porn support and sexual addition groups to help people break free. Contact us for ideas!

We are grateful to God that he called us to support these valuable women.  We welcome and need your activism to see prostitution decline in our culture.  Remember that bystanders are a part of the problem and helpers are a part of the solution!


To step out of the bystander crowd and raise your voice contact us today.



Article was written by Susan Vigliano – President of the Board of Director of Peace Promise