Social Apathy, or a Psychological Problem

I have been desensitized over the years with news stories of human suffering and tragedy. In my academic studies in criminology, I have read, encountered, and studied both the purely bad and truly evil acts that humans have done, and through this, I have built up a resistance from these deviants, and often criminal cases. However, once in a while, a case pops up that adds a new level to this playing field that supersedes my definition of sick and twisted. The news story of two year old Wang Yueyue who was run over twice on October 13th, 2011, and then eight passers-by walked by her as she lay in the back alley injured from the first vehicle impact (CBCnews, ABC news & BBC news Television, October 14th to October 21, 2011). All of this was captured on a security video camera.

The video footage was grainy, and CBC News censored the image of the child, capturing from the time that she was impacted by the first vehicle, all the people that walked passed her body a she struggled for help, then a second vehicle hitting her, to finally a woman who grabbed her and took her to safety. Even with the child’s body blurred out, the image still shocked me. I had to turn off the television and retreat from what my eyes had just seen.

I knew right away. I knew what had happened as to why so many people walked by as I remembered my lessons in psychology on topics such as “Group Think” and “Passers By” conditions. Could this be prevented, say training people to stop and care?

China is by no means the only place where this has happened. It has happened in Canada, the U.S., Europe, just about anywhere around the world. Some argue that laws and cases where the victim has litigated by the rescuer for causing further injury, is a reason for not getting involved (CBC news, “Was the law at fault in Chinese toddler tragedy?” Oct 22, 2011). Others say that they just do not want to get involved and bare the responsibility and the time that it would take and to deal with the repercussions afterwards (CBC News).

There are people who just do not want to get involved. Simply put, most people in large groups will not even look directly at a victim of need because this would mean taking time, diverting from one’s course, and blending in, following the flow of the crowd. So hiding in numbers makes it easier not to look.

In Canada, we have the right not to rescue in some circumstances. This means that if I see a person drowning in the ocean, and I cannot swim, the Criminal Code protects me from not rescuing the drowning victim because I would then be also putting myself in the same danger as the drowning victim. In Canada, according to the Supreme Court of Canada:

According to the trial judge of a modern case, later affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada, “the law is clear that there is no general duty to come to the rescue of another person … the law leaves the remedy to a person’s conscience.” (“Duty to Rescue,” PSW Law Website: 2009)

However, there are some circumstance that would tie a duty to rescue under statutory law, such as a parent, a person of trust, a life guard, and so on (PSW Law: 2009 Website).

My point to this post is why so many people walked by while the little girl lay on the road at the point of death. Perhaps, as many have said on the media, we must change our values and take action. Some have gone further and saying that laws need to be rewritten to reflect a high moral standard, while others are saying that the law is not the answer, but teaching people to be proactive rather than being nonactive.

I also need to add a legal disclaimer here too: This post is not to be used as information for legal advice, and I encourage you all to do further research on this topic if you need to find a specific legal issue about this. Also, these laws vary from country to country. According to the media, several people were charged in China who injured the little girl while driving their vehicles, so the law enforcement authorities did enforce the law in accordance to that country’s penal code (CBC news, Oct 24, 2011).

This post was originally written on October 24, 2011


ABC News, 2011: “Chinese Toddler Ignored After Hit-and-Run Dies” Oct 21, 2011:

BBC World News, 2011: “Anger and debate over hit-and-run toddler Wang Yue,” Oct 21 2011:

CBC News, 2011: “Chinese toddler run over twice dies,” Oct 21, 2011:

CBC News, 2011: “Was the law at fault in Chinese toddler tragedy?” Oct 22, 2011:

PSW Law, 2009:


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