The Bystander Dilemma and Child Abuse: Extending the Latane and Darley Model to Domestic Violence1


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    The research in this paper was part of The Amsterdam Free University Research Project Prevention of Child Abuse, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Public Health and Welfare. Thanks go to Korrelatie for their accurate keeping and filing of the records of the calls. The authors also wish to express their appreciation to Hans-Joachim Schulze, Paul van Lange, Herman Baartman, and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Finally, we wish to thank Thurstan Robinson for his input as a native English speaker in improving our use of the language.

2 Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Cees Hoefnagels, Van der Boechorststraat 1, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands, e-mail:


In this paper, the theoretical framework of the bystander paradigm, as originally developed by Latane and Darley (1968, 1970), is extended to include an example of domestic violence on the basis of empirical research. The purpose of this study is to examine which personal and situational characteristics are associated with noticing and interpretation of child abuse. Records of telephone calls (n= 696) from nonprofessional bystanders who alleged child abuse were analyzed. Results show that these bystanders of child abuse are a diverse group, and include a considerable number of children (peers). Bystanders' characteristics, such as gender and age group, and bystanders' visual and auditory perceptions, affect their interpretation of the abusive situation, i. e., their level of certainty of the abuse. These and other findings are discussed, and implications for future research and the definition of bystanders are formulated.