Recently, a purse was snatch from a woman in one of the many crowded malls in Metro Vancouver (see above video). This occurrence may seem fairly common, but what is clearly demonstrated is that despite the fact she’s asking for help, not a single person does.
This is called the Bystander Effect.
The Bystander Effect means that the more people are around, the less likely a person is to act when someone else is in need of help. This could also be considered an offshoot of the Mob Mentality. Statistically, if someone has their purse snatched and there are only one or two people nearby, the bystander is more likely to do something than if there had been a crowd of people. It’s easy for you to sit there and say, “Oh, but if I was there I would do something”, but the reality is that study after study shows that if you are in a crowd you most likely will just sit, or stand and do nothing. Why is this? It’s simply because everyone always thinks that somebody else will do something, but as this collective thinking passes from person to person, in the end, nobody helps.
This had me thinking, does this always have to be the case? Is it simply a cultural phenomenon, or is it universal. What does this have to do with Krav Maga or Self Defense? Well, a lot. A part of self-defense is safety in numbers and, as an extension of this, community safety. This means “How will the community as a whole react in the event that there is an issue?”
In Israel, though it is slowly on the rise, in general, petty crime rates are relatively low despite what you might think from depictions of Israel in the media. On a personal note, I can say without a doubt, that I feel safer walking around in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem at 2 AM than I would walking around in parts of Downtown Vancouver at the same time. Why is this? Israel is a country with a history of war and conflict and yet, on a day-to-day basis, it is relatively safe.
In Canada, I often hear the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) or other city police forces like the VPD (Vancouver Police Department) say that, if there is a problem, to please call the police and let the professionals deal with the situation. Though I know their hearts are in the right place, this is a statement that I struggle with. They often say they are trained and they know how to handle the situations, but as someone who has dedicated his life to teaching people self-defense and, as someone who travels the world to get additional training, I can say that the police in Canada and North America, in general, lack proper training. So, is waiting for a “trained” professional the correct decision? Well, it may be for more serious situations, but for things like petty crime (such as purse snatching) I really do not think it is the correct message to give.
So why is petty crime relatively low in Israel? It could be because there are soldiers, police, and security officers with guns everywhere, or it could be that if petty crime occurs, it does not matter who is around, the crowd will help out. If there’s a bomb explosion in Israel you will often find people running towards the area to help rather than run away in fear.
I remember a story my uncle once told me during the first intifada in the early 2000’s. A suicide bomber walked into his place of work. There were no soldiers, no police officers and no armed security. He and another employee noticed the suicide bomber and, instead of calling and waiting for help to arrive, they acted by jumping on the bomber and prevented him from blowing up the market. My uncle is a man of tiny stature, maybe 5’ tall and 130 pounds, with numerous health ailments, and yet he and his co-worker knew that had they not acted, not only would the market have been blown up but they probably would have also been killed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am by no means advocating jumping in the way of a bullet or in any way risking your life. Whether you act or not in such a situation is your call, and if you think you can do something it’s up to you. However, if there are 100 people watching, and the act is something petty, like a purse snatching, it can be easy to do something. Contrary to your belief, the risk is relatively low. The moment one person acts, the more likely it is that others will also help out. Sometimes acting does not need special training as the police would have you think, it simply requires you to do something. If criminals who commit petty crimes, regardless of the reason for doing it, knew that people would stop them should they commit the crime, I suspect that they would be less likely to commit it.
Safety does not just come from one person, it also comes from a community’s willingness to prevent crime and unsafe situations as a whole. As a Krav Maga practitioner, on average, you actually have more hand-to-hand combat training than the majority of police. So, when they say leave it to the trained professionals, guess what? While you may not be a professional, you certainly are trained. On top of this, police can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes to arrive and by then it’s already too late. That purse has already been taken, the person had already been stabbed, or the store has already been blown up.
Again, while the decision to act or not act is completely up to you, based on the circumstances, I simply pose the question to you. Why be simply another bystander when you can do something and make a difference?
Written by: Jonathan Fader
Edited by: Warren Chow