When Troy, Alabama, police began looking into a local shooting, their investigation turned up something they didn't expect: a cell phone video of what appeared to be a gang rape of an unconscious woman in broad daylight, surrounded by unconcerned spring break partiers.
On Wednesday, a third man, college student George Davon Kennedy of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators, which police say took place on Panama City Beach in mid-March. The other two men, 22-year-old Delonte' Martistee and 23-year-old Ryan Calhoun, were arrested last Thursday in Alabama, where they were enrolled at Troy University.
As experts increasingly zero in on bystander intervention as a possible preventative tool for sexual assault, the question remains why none of the other people on the beach apparently did anything to help.
"We’re all complicit in norms that have people pull out video cameras instead of stopping it."'
"Within 10 feet from where this is happening there are hundreds, hundreds of people standing there watching, looking, seeing, hearing what is going on, and yet our culture and our society and our young people have got to the point where obviously this is acceptable somewhere, but I will tell you it is not acceptable in Bay County," said Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen, according to AL.com.
A spokeswoman for the Bay County Sheriff's department, which is investigating the case, said they had taken three witness statements so far but that she didn't have more information on whether they gave any reason for their non-intervention. Police are working to identify more of the people in the video, parts of which they released to local media. That, according to CNN, was how the woman in the video was identified -- she recognized her own tattoos on the local news.
Last September, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched the "It's On Us" initiative, channeling some of the key messages from the bystander intervention tools that have been developed by advocates against sexual assault and domestic violence. The campaign's tips include, "If you see someone who is too intoxicated to consent, enlist their friends to help them leave safely;" "Be aware if someone is deliberately trying to intoxicate, isolate, or corner someone else;" and "Get someone to help you if you see something -- enlist a friend, RA, bartender, or host to help step in."
Neil Irvin, executive director at Men Can Stop Rape, which partnered with the White House on the campaign, told msnbc, "We’re all complicit in norms that have people pull out video cameras instead of stopping it." The rationale, he said, is often, "It’s not for us to get involved, it’s not our business," or that because a woman may be very drunk or incapacitated, she deserves what comes to her.
"What you’re going to hear is, 'I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want them to turn on me,'" he said. "That’s what we hear when we work with the military and on campuses. No one wants to become the target of the violence."
The key, Irvin said, is to try to foster a culture of primary prevention, where there is safety in numbers and a bystander feels like he or she knows what resources are available -- be they a hotline, the campus police, or a lifeguard.