Reference Groups, Mob Mentality, and Bystander Intervention: A Sociological Analysis of the Lara Logan Case1

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Despite that it involves mobs, bystanders, and political theater—three classic concepts in social psychology—academics have neglected analyzing the Lara Logan sexual assault case through these lenses. I explore how the case has been discussed in the media and suggest that analysis of the mob and bystanders has been, oddly, lacking. I argue that the best reference group to use when discussing this case is not other journalists or even other women who have survived assaults, but is instead enemy women who have survived politically motivated wartime gang sexual assaults. Most observers have overlooked the relevant reference group due to focusing on the traits of the victim, rather than on the context of the event itself. I argue that the case conforms to important dimensions: (1) the sociological norm that gang violence involves premeditation, (2) an agreement of values among perpetrators, and (3) that the violence itself lacked cultural and social legitimacy. Logan was likely targeted because she was a “stranger”; she was saved, in part, for the same reason. The case illustrates known patterns of mob mentalities and bystander intervention, yet it is unlike most cases of both nonwartime gender violence and violence against journalists.

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