Juan Zhang was abducted and killed five days ago; eight people heard her scream, but no one contacted the police or did anything about it. A criminologist has said this is because people are uncertain, not uncaring.
This is spot on. If I heard someone screaming outside my house, I would go to see what was happening. If I saw a person being attacked, then, yes, I would call the police. If I didn’t see anything, I would probably think that it was kids mucking around.
I do know that it’s difficult to know whether the police would take a call seriously. A few years ago, I called police to say I had seen someone driving dangerously and erratically, almost side-swiping two other cars on the road. I said that I had been in the car with my Dad, and so I had been able to record the numberplate. The next thing I know, I was put through to the “Children’s liaison unit”, and the person on the other end of the phone asked “So you were in the car with your Daddy?” in a little baby voice. I know I’m often mistaken for younger than my age, but that was ridiculous. When I explained that I was an adult and why I was ringing, I was then told that there was nothing anyone could do about it because the person had not actually committed an offence. Obviously, an erratic driver is a bit different to someone screaming, but the feeling I got was that unless I had seen someone brandishing a shot gun outside my house, then I should go away.
And what would I do if I was alone on a train at night and I saw a gang of young men bashing up another man? I’m not sure. I have a crazy streak which might emerge in that kind of circumstance and propel me into saying or doing something because I can’t stand to see people being picked on. But the thing is, as a lone woman with no martial arts skills to speak of, I couldn’t possibly fight all of those men. It would be very difficult for me to intervene verbally or physically, unless I was confident that other people on the train would back me up. My fear is that I would just end up getting severely injured myself. I guess I would probably try to call 000. But it is a difficult question. I remember reading a newspaper column by a commentator who was outraged that no one intervened to stop a gay bashing at Flinders Street Station at 10 o’clock at night. He said that it showed that Melbourners were basically homophobic, but I disagree with this. What it does show is that people are afraid to intervene in case they end up getting harmed, and that they are not confident that other people will back them up.
I think there should be a greater police and official presence in places in the city, and police should be given more resources to deal with these sorts of situations.