Fear of aftermath prevents people from helping injured strangers

By Xanh Le, Minh Hanh   April 10, 2023 | 03:37 pm PT
Two years ago Tien saw an old lady fall on a street in HCMC and paused briefly by her side but was beaten up for his trouble.

It was on Lunar New Year, and Tien was on his way to the market in District 6 when he saw the lady fall. There were not many people around.

He says: "I stopped to see what had happened to her. I was afraid she was having a heart attack or something. Then a bunch of youngsters suddenly accosted me and beat me up."

They claimed he had caused the old lady to fall and demanded he pay her compensation. "I guessed I was set up. They searched me and took all my belongings."

That made him give up on helping strangers he saw.

He was obsessed with the incident for a long time after that, and became cautious about people around him.

"Since then I have come across traffic accidents many times, but did not dare stop. If someone was seriously injured, I would call the police."

Hai Bang, a student in Hanoi, had a similar experience a year ago merely for doing his civic duty.

He saw a woman struck by a hit-and-run driver.

"I provided the police with the car license plate number, and they caught the driver. But somehow the police accidentally revealed to the driver that I was the witness, and they even knew my face. For a whole month after that I did not dare go out fearing retribution.

"I have also seen some of my friends help take injured people to hospitals and get beaten up by relatives. The relatives did not need to know if the one they were attacking was really the culprit, they just wanted to transfer their stress on to someone else."

Tuan has not had bad experiences from helping strangers like Tien or Bang, but merely wants to preclude unwanted trouble, and so chooses to be a "bad" person when he sees accidents.

The risk of being set up or facing possible trouble for helping the police is the reason he cites for his decision.

"I would have to spend time dealing with those problems. I have never experienced these things myself, but I have seen a lot of cases like that in the media and on social media."

Psychologist Tran Kim Thanh thinks this reluctance stems from three possible reasons: Firstly, when someone sees an accident and a crowd gathered, they think someone else should take the responsibility for helping the victims and exclude themselves from it. Secondly, they find it hard to empathize with victims when they are strangers. Finally, they fear that without understanding the situation they might mistakenly help the culprit instead of the victim.

"People in industrial societies are more self-centered. They are not connected with the community or nature, which makes them apathetic and inconsiderate."

The tendency to avoid possible trouble also stops many from helping injured strangers, she adds.

"They don’t want to be mistaken for the culprit and beaten up or sworn at."

They do not want to be investigated either, which would waste their time, she points out.

But neglecting injured people, when it leads to serious consequences, could bring the wrath of the law.

Illustration photo by Pexels.

Illustration photo by Pexels

On January 31 the Procuracy of Can Loc District in Ha Tinh approved the prosecution of Nguyen Thi Hang, 32, of Nghe An, for "neglecting a person who was in a life-threatening situation."

On the night of October 2 last year Nguyen Cong Phuong, 32, rode his motorbike into Hang’s parked car in Quang Dien district.

He fell off his vehicle and on the road. Hang came and drove her car away, leaving Phuong and his motorbike.

Soon after that Phuong was hit by a truck driven by Tuong Van Dang, 30, of Quang Binh Province. He died on his way to the hospital.

But despite the law’s explicit provisions, many people hesitate to help injured strangers because of possible consequences.

As Tuan says, this kind of trouble is inevitable if people doing good deeds are treated suspiciously instead of with thanks.

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