Commentary: Predators depend on bystanders to do nothing

There is often a third actor who facilitates the predator-perpetrator. That actor is the bystander.

Larry Nassar listens during his sentencing at Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich., Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. The former Michigan State University sports-medicine and USA Gymnastics doctor received 40 to 125 years for three first degree criminal sexual abuse charges related to assaults that occurred at Twistars, a gymnastics facility in Dimondale. Nassar has also been sentenced to 60 years in prison for three child pornography charges in federal court and between 40 to 175 years in Ingham County for seven counts of criminal sexual conduct. (Cory Morse /The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

Enough is enough.

More than 200 victim impact statements by women sexually assaulted over the course of two decades when they were girls, some as young as 6 years old, by a Michigan State University physician.

The Ingham County, Mich., judge, in her words, signed his death warrant in sentencing him up to 140 years.

Administrators, coaches and others were told what Dr. Larry Nassar was doing to the girls. All turned a blind eye.

So did those who knew what Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer were doing.

The above are predators. The sheer number of sexual assaults reflects perpetrator impunity. Their power is unchecked. That needs to be stopped.

The victims are permanently scarred, their damage immeasurable and unimaginably painful, their anger, sadness, and despair palpable.

While the victim-predator dynamic is, naturally, the focus of public and media attention, it is an incomplete configuration. In reality, the correct metaphor is a triangle, rather than a straight line connecting two actors. Why a triangle? Because there is often a third actor who facilitates the predator-perpetrator. That actor is the bystander.

The bystander is you or me.

My conviction regarding bystander centrality to the perpetrator is largely formed by my parents’ Holocaust experiences.

My mother hid in a Budapest attic until “outed” by a neighbor. My father survived two death marches. In my father’s case, Serbian villagers taunted him with water, never offering haven or solace. In my mother’s case, Hungarian Gentiles turned their backs on a 12-year girl, with her mother, frantically searching for safe houses.

For me, the contemporary bystander is legally complicit in the perpetrator’s actions.

The perpetrator is dependent on bystander inaction. That inaction facilitates the perpetrator. It is the crime of omission. While the bystander is not responsible for the initial harm, the conscious decision not to act enhances the vulnerable victim’s peril.

What does this mean practically?

Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Brian King’s House Bill 125 -- Duty to Assist in an Emergency -- was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee, 9-3, last week and will come to a vote before the House of Representatives this week.

King’s bill would require Utah citizens to assist those suffering serious bodily injury associated with a crime or another emergency. King’s bill does not require anyone to take actions that would put themselves at risk or in danger to help another human being.

“We’re not asking anyone to be a hero,” said King. “This is just codifying our society’s reasonable expectation that you should take reasonable action, such as calling 9-1-1 when you see someone who is hurt, or if you see something that you know is a crime.”

According to King, “If a person sees a crime being committed, or sees someone in dire need of help, but that person intentionally chooses not to call for help, that may make them complicit. In those circumstances, I think it is appropriate to give our prosecutors tools to ensure there are consequences.”

Critics suggest, “We know to do the right thing” and that bystander obligation must be viewed through the lens of morality exclusively. Others argue bystander obligation law will overwhelm law enforcement with frivolous claims by busybody neighbors. The bill as drafted makes that very unlikely. But it is a possibility. To outright dismiss that concern is fool’s gold.

However. There is a compelling response: The victim -- whether at the hands of Harvey Weinstein or an unfortunate fall -- lying on the ground hoping you will push 9-1-1 on your cellphone.

Calling law enforcement, drawing their attention to a human being in peril, is a low bar. There is no requirement you physically intervene. Actually, the only physical act required of you is to pull your cellphone out of your pocket, push three numbers and inform law enforcement.

Ask victims of sexual assaults, ask yourself if you have had a bad fall, ask your family member who was in peril.

The requirement King’s legislation proposes really is minimal.

Just dial 9-1-1. If you see suffering say something. It’s that simple.

| Courtesy Quinney College of Law Amos Guiora

Amos N. Guiora, J.D., Ph.D., is a professor of law at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah, and the author of “Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust.”