By: Jimmie Santee
In my “Over the Edge” editorial in last months PS Magazine, I wrote about abuse in coaching, emphasizing that it is imperative that coaches be diligent in keeping an eye out for suspect or abusive relationships. As it was reported regarding the Penn State fiasco, this was not always the case. Many adults in positions of authority ignored the signs of abuse or simply didn’t report what they saw. While it could be considered a criminal act in some instances, willful tolerance, as it is being called, definitely exposes the observer to civil liability.
As I understand the term, willful tolerance is the practice or act of ignoring wrongful deeds. Willful implies intent or purpose. Tolerance implies the allowance or sufferance of conduct with which one is not in accord.
My concern is that coaches and club officials, who understand that they have a duty to protect the skaters, do not report abusive situations to the proper authorities, but instead choose to share the information with their peers. This does little to end a bad situation and generally makes it worse. But why do we not report these issues? It made me curious as to why this happens so I did a little research.
Mark Levine, a social psychologist at Lancaster University in the U.K., was quoted in a recent Time.com article by Maia Szalavitz regarding the Penn State crisis. She asserts “… that somehow, when we’re with other people, we lose our rational capacity or personal identity, which controls our behavior.” In comparison, coaches and officials are often more concerned with the public fallout of an issue.
Penn State football coach Joe Paterno appeared to have either looked the other way or maybe even covered up for the accused Sandusky, rather than reporting him to the police. Said Levine, “[This] suggests that group solidarity with the football team still takes priority over support for abused children at the school.” That is, in a nutshell, willful tolerance.
Another possible factor identified by social psychologist Stanley Cohen is denial. Often, bystanders repress the information or refuse to admit that an incident has occurred. What happened to the witness in the Sandusky case is what Cohen labeled “interpretive” denial – trying to transform or minimize the significance of the action. Research suggests that when a witness’s own perception of the world around them changes negatively, “they often create accounts that deny reality, blame the victim or otherwise rationalize the situation.”
Finally, Levine refers to the ‘50s when all adults took responsibility for all children. Today it is every family for themselves. Most people would think twice before acting, fearful of being condemned for stepping in.
Hopefully, in the future when witnessing an abusive or illegal act, the outcome will be different. The author Szalavitz concludes, “Understanding the psychology of these situations can help increase the chances that bystanders will step up when people need assistance, but it does not excuse the failures of those who do nothing.” We have a duty to put the needs of the skater first; doing everything in our power to protect them from harm. As a person of authority, this is our responsibility ALWAYS!
Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/11/11/bystander-psychology-why-some-witnesses-to-crime-do-nothing/#ixzz1jMc2TI2p