The Bystander Effect

As I read the story of Amanda Todd, like many, I was filled with a deep sense of sadness over the loss of yet another young life. As I continued to read and hear more of the circumstances of Amanda’s situation, my sense of sadness was quickly replaced with anger and frustration. It seems that the list of people taking their own lives because of the senseless violence of bullying appears to be getting longer.

I’m still dumbfounded as to how this violent behaviour is still allowed to continue. How is it that with all the discussions and campaigns, people both young and old continue to feel the overwhelming sense of powerlessness in which the only way to regain some sort of control over their situation is to end their lives? What are we missing? What are we getting wrong?

I believe that before we start putting together another “what to do if you are being bullied” list, we first need to step back to educate and raise awareness as to what bullying actually is. ABUSE. Physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, financial, social, environmental, religious abuse. Sadly, some of us still hear “bullying” and think grade five schoolyard antics. Bullying IS abuse. We need to raise awareness regarding the short- and long-term effects of abuse, both from the perspective of the victim and perpetrator. We seem to want to forget the fact that many young perpetrators grow up, and then become perpetrators in our workplaces. And yes, I called the bullies perpetrators. Let’s not mince words; that’s what they are.

Secondly, we are constantly telling the victims of violence to report what is happening. Tell someone. ABSOLUTELY. Silence and isolation are what the perpetrator wants and needs in order for this violence to continue. Telling someone is paramount. However, I’m thinking it’s time that we stop putting the onus of reporting the crime solely on the victim.

What about us, the bystanders? How many of us walk away when we witness wrong-doing? And, not only in schools. What about our workplaces? We are aware of what is happening, and yet we walk away, worried about what might happen to us if we say something or get involved. If we know that abuse continues in silence, then how can we possibly stay silent? We know that if the perpetrator is interrupted, if someone just says something in defence of the victim, it stops. The victim will also realize the support doesn’t just stop after the initial reporting of the crime.

We are all aware of the horrific and ever-growing issue of abuse in our society. Maybe it’s time that we stopped diffusing our responsibly to help another in a harmful situation. We seem to forget that, as a society, we do in fact outnumber the perpetrators.

When we, as bystanders, walk away from witnessing abusive situations, we are giving it permission to continue.

Vivian Cannataro

Trauma Counsellor

Vivian Cannataro is a trauma counsellor, EFTCert-II practitioner, author, and presenter. She has worked as a front-line counsellor and public educator for several years in the Peel Region. In her private practice, she specializes in working with survivors of violence and sexual assault. She is also the founder of COPE Education Programs, a series of experiential workshops specifically designed to learn new, more effective ways of thinking and being. These skills-based workshops teach individuals very highly effective tools that allow them the opportunity to develop and re-connect to their personal empowerment. Vivian also presents to high school students in the Peel Region on the long-term effects of bullying and abuse, as well as healthy and unhealthy relationships. She also facilitates training seminars to clinicians and peer referral agents. Vivian’s international practice includes one-on-one counselling sessions, both in person and via phone, as well as training programs, workshops, and speaking engagements. Her combined life and professional experiences make her a very knowledgeable and skilled presenter. The consistent feedback received from those who experience her workshops and one-on-one sessions is that her sense of humour and compassion deeply impact them. She sees both as essential tools to get through life and help others.

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Observing the Moment

I had deluded myself into thinking that once summer arrived and my kids were out of school, life would magically become less busy. No school meant no lunches to pack, no homework to check, no last minute project supplies to run out and buy, and no dreaded student agenda to go over. Well, here we are in the middle of July and I seem to be busier than I was in May!! Even with the best of intentions and strategic planning, busy always seems to creep into our lives. Continue reading

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