Something I have been thinking about when it comes to this blog is—what IS Bystander Intervention, really? Some of it is pretty obvious—stepping in to help a friend at a party when she is drunk and someone is clearly trying to take advantage of her. That’s bystander intervention. Hearing a friend of yours making sexist comments and telling him, “Dude, that’s not cool.” That’s bystander intervention.
It can be a big thing or a small thing. It can be done with words. Or with actions…
…can it be done online?
Weirdly, even though I’m writing this blog, I hadn’t thought so much about ONLINE bystander intervention until I read a recent series of news stories. This story got me thinking about a whole bunch of things, actually—bystander intervention was one thing. But also how we can’t really limit ourselves to one social problem at a time. Things are all intertwined—that woman who is homeless might be homeless because of domestic violence. That man who has substance abuse issues might be trying to deal with the pain of childhood molestation. Someone suffering racial discrimination is being impacted by a culture that also perpetuates other kinds of discrimination and suffering. We are truly all connected in so many ways.
This leads me to the story of Mallory Owens. There has been a lot on the news about this young woman, who went to the home of her girlfriend on Thanksgiving, where her girlfriend’s brother attacked and beat her so violently that she suffered brain bleeding and needed reconstructive surgery and two metal plates to restore her cheekbones. The young man, Travis Hawkins Jr., was charged initially with Second Degree Assault and was bailed out almost immediately.
There has been debate as to whether this attack was prompted by Mallory being an out lesbian—whether Travis attacked her due to her sexuality and dating of his sister. At first, Mallory’s family said emphatically that the attack WAS due to Mallory’s sexuality. It also came out that in a previous incident, Travis Jr. had attacked Mallory with a metal wrench and threatened to later “finish the job” he had started, and that Travis’ father several years prior had shot his own son in the stomach–and several years before THAT had discharged a firearm over the heads of his children in the bedroom. Clearly, there is a history of domestic violence in the family. And clearly, this was not the only time Travis Jr. had attacked Mallory.
Mallory’s family and friends rallied around and tried to raise awareness of the relatively minor charge of Second Degree Assault. A Facebook Community called “Justice for Mallory Owens” was formed and now has over 15,000 Likes and over 23,000 people talking about posts made on the Community Page.
Later, there was some confusion when Mallory—upon being released from the hospital—went to the home of her girlfriend and the Travis family for a press conference in which she said that she did NOT claim the attack as a hate crime. Then, not too many days later, she said that she had been tricked and intimidated into making the appearance at the Hawkins home, and maneuvered into a position where she had to make these statements. She then released a written statement saying she had been attacked due to her sexual orientation and that she was in continuing fear for her life.
As you can tell by reading this—there are a LOT of issues going on here, ranging from domestic violence to hate crimes, gay-bashing, child abuse, and more. But what is at the heart of it—the core of it—is that a 23 year old woman had gone to the home of her girlfriend to celebrate Thanksgiving, and was left beaten nearly to death, desperately injured, traumatized and terrified. She faces high medical bills that her family is going to struggle to pay. Her life will never, EVER be the same.
The hope of her and her family is that the charges will be upgraded to Attempted Murder. The likelihood that this was a hate-motivated crime seems extremely high. However, in Alabama, where the attack took place, there are no laws on the books that include attacks against gays and lesbians prompted by their sexual orientation as hate crimes. For these reasons and so many more, the future is uncertain for Mallory. She faces a long road of recovery ahead—physical, emotional, spiritual.
My heart breaks for her.
Now… what does this have to do with a bystander blog?
For one thing, according to reports, the girlfriend’s family did not intervene in the beating. They were passive bystanders. Why? Quite possibly out of fear. If this family has suffered child abuse and domestic violence in the way it clearly has, fear could quite easily paralyzed them. Right or wrong, they took no action. But it got me thinking about what might have happened if someone had intervened. Could they have done it safely? If so… how? These questions in and of themselves could make their own blog post. Or several.
But I was talking about Bystander Intervention and the Internet.
The INTERNET response to this tragedy really opened my eyes. Here, there are THOUSANDS of active bystanders—people responding to the Facebook Community. People posting in forums. People signing petitions urging the charges of 2nd Degree Assault to be upgraded. People sending money to help with Mallory’s medical expenses.
Can you by an active bystander on the internet? YOU DARN WELL BET YOU CAN. And being an active bystander here can make a difference just as profound as being one in other venues.
Like I said at the beginning of this post, we are ALL connected. You don’t have to be a woman to care about women’s issues. You don’t have to be an recovering addict to care about addiction issues or their connections to poverty and abuse. You don’t have to be a survivor of violence to know that violence in our homes and relationships is destructive, wrong, and pervasive.
And you don’t have to be gay or lesbian to care about Mallory Owens.
If you feel moved to be an active internet bystander when it comes to this issue, here are some links:
For the Justice for Mallory Owens Facebook Community, use this link.
For the GLAAD fundraiser page to help pay for Mallory’s medical expenses, go here.
For the Change.org petition to upgrade the charges against Mallory’s assailant to Attempted Murder, use this link.