Over the past 23 years I have had the privilege of hearing thousands of women share their stories, sometimes very personal ones of incidents where they have felt uncomfortable, experienced aggressive behaviour, or violence. Often when we break down the stories, many will ask why no one who may have been present has helped them. Well answering that could take hours and hours, but I will offer a few reasons I have heard and shared over the years.
Fear and Lack of Knowlege - first and foremost most people are just afraid to help not wanting to risk hurting themselves. It is much easier for most people to just exit the situation if they do not know what to do. They may justify to themselves at the time why they left, often saying to themselves they would have helped, but were sure someone else was going to. There are countless stories where you can see the Bystander Effect taking place. Now while some leave, some of those people do get to a safe location and call 911 to get help. Now often this is actually the best way to help cause if one is to jump in and stop an attack they also risk being harmed in which case there could be multiple victims with still no help. In first aid they tell you to get help first before attending to anyone.
So do you jump in and help someone who is being harmed? That is up to you and often depends on your life experiences and how comfortable or educated you are in helping which ties into just having a Lack of Knowledge in regards to what you are seeing, hearing or experiencing. Unfortuately many people do have a lot of knowledge in regards to violence which can either help someone else they see being harmed or bring back their own terrible memories causing them to avoid getting involved. This goes much deeper than I am qualified to speak about, but in general terms I have heard many stories with both possibilities. People are often too quick to judge other people's actions, but you might want to just ask yourself what you might do before judging others.
Bad Experiences - I was once discussing car safety with a group of healthcare workers and what they might do or not do if they saw someone stuck on the side of the road. Some of the parcticipants said they would drive by, some said they would stop at a distance, roll down their window and offer to call roadside assistance while some said they would go right up to the car, get out and even offer the person a ride to the closest garage. One woman in particular said she would not help and you could tell the others were starting to judge her even to the point of making her feel guilty. It was quite obvious to me that there was a story here I was hoping she would share, which she did. From best of my memory she said it had been about 20 years earlier and she was parked on side of the road with her boyfriend when a man approached her car looking as if he needed help. Being the nice person she was, and caring as most healthcare workers are, she opened the door to see what he needed. He wound up and punched her right in the middle of her chest. She gasped for air. He then noticed the boyfriend (who I am guessing he did not think was there) because he then took off. It all happened so quickly and the two of them considered doing nothing, but after discussion they decided to go to the police where they gave a description of the man. If I recall one or two days later the police told her they believed they had found the man and had her identify him. She did and they informed her that he had killed two or three other women and she would have likely been his next victim. So needless to say when she shared this story the rest of the group felt terrible for having judged her and she said ever since then she had a very difficult time trusting anyone. Who the hell is anyone to tell her different? This is a sad example of a someone's experiences having had a huge effect on how she might react in the future. Never expect anyone to react how you THINK you would react.
Fear of Appearing Wrong - for some they just do not help, out of fear of being wrong and looking foolish.
These are all reasons why we tell people to do their best to prepare themselves the best and if someone else does help you, fantastic, but never rely on someone else to help you as there are many reasons why they may or may not help you.