Abby Kinchy, Assistant Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Richard M., and Alana B., who blogs at Pecan Pie, sent us a link to a post by Maya at Feministing about an anti-domestic violence PSA from South Africa. The group that created the ad, People Opposing Women Abuse, set up an experiment of sorts. A man first played drums loudly in his townhouse, quickly leading to multiple complaints by neighbors about the noise and a written warning. On a different night, the group loudly played a tape of what sounded like a violent dispute between a man and a woman.  The reaction? Watch:

Aside from the obviously horrifying implications about domestic violence, I think it’s an interesting illustration of what people feel comfortable intervening or complaining about. As Maya points out in the original post, we all  like to think we would immediately be at the door or on the phone with police, but many of us have, at one point or another, encountered a situation where we didn’t know whether to intervene or not:

…I once sat in a subway station in Manhattan late at night and watched a man try to get a sobbing, drunk woman to leave with him. I hesitated, not sure what to do. A few minutes later the police arrived; someone had acted, but it wasn’t me. Just last week, I saw a man aggressively slap a woman’s butt as she walked past in my neighborhood. I looked the other way, and she didn’t say anything either. I ignore sexual harassment—directed at me or others—pretty much every day.

I suspect what is going on here is a mixture of factors: that we put violence between partners into a different, less serious category than, say, a fist-fight between strangers at a bar, an unwillingness to intervene in what many think of as a private family matter, and fear about our own safety if we get involved or call authorities, among others.

For a thorough discussion of the so-called “bystander effect,” and the complex reasons people may not report behavior they find inappropriate, check out this article (free of charge) from the Journal of the International Ombudsmen Association.