Bystander Education: How To Act In The Face Of Violence

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the final episode of Seinfeld, the apathetic foursome were arrested in a small New England town for standing by and laughing while a heavy-set man was carjacked. They were accused of breaking a "Good Samaritan Law" whereby witnesses of a crime are required to take some form of action.

What made the situation on Seinfeld funny is that Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer did what most of us would have done, though we may not have laughed so exuberantly. The same phenomenon, being passive while others are in danger, is now being questioned quite seriously in the week after dozens of people stood idly by while a 15-year-old girl was raped after her homecoming dance in Richmond, California.

The word from the local police is that none of the gawkers will face criminal charges, though four men are currently in custody, charged with the rape.

A group profiled in a Newsweek blog is trying to reverse this apathy, which is apparently not all that uncommon:

The MVP (Mentors in Violence Prevention) program, which was developed in 1993 at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sports in Society, tries to teach students how to stop violence when they see it. The MVP program involves a two-day training period for teachers, coaches, and administrators, who then return to their schools equipped to train their students. "Most people think they only have two choices for intervention," says Jackson Katz, a cofounder of the program and an architect of the bystander approach. "One is to intervene physically right at the point of attack, and the other is to do nothing. And that's a false set of choices." As part of the MVP program, students sit in a classroom and talk about the menu of options -- from getting a group of friends together to calling 911 -- available to them. At the heart of the program is a set of scenarios that allow students to imagine what they might do in a variety of situations. Each scenario comes with a list of viable interventions for bystanders.

If you witness a violent crime, here are some more tips from the Mentors in Violence Prevention program and the University of Kentucky's Green Dot program:

•If the situation looks dangerous, just call 911 and give the details as clearly as possible.
•Delegate to someone else to get help. Don't feel bad if you feel powerless to help yourself. As long as you've empowered someone else to call 911 or get help, you've done the right thing.
•Create a distraction. Throw something, scream or honk a car horn. You'll stay safe and hopefully spook the perpetrators.