Bystander hesitation

man coming to the aid of an unconscious woman

Concerns about doing the ‘wrong’ thing or making things worse can make people afraid to help in an emergency. Unfortunately, this is more common for female casualties due to concerns about inappropriate contact or causing injury.

A 2023 study showed that bystanders less likely to perform CPR on women (52% of women compared to 55% of men). However, when emergencies occurred in public the difference was greater (61% of women compared to 68% of men).

Some of the reasons for this are:

  • Fear of causing physical injury
  • Fear of being accused of sexual assault or inappropriate touching
  • A misconception that breasts make CPR more difficult
  • Poor recognition of women suffering cardiac arrest, due to the perception that women are less likely to have heart problems

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, often in the absence of any previous symptoms. Performing CPR can double or triple a victim’s chances of surviving.

The consequences of bystander hesitation due to concerns around sexual assault accusations are that women will potentially receive no CPR, or delays in initiation of CPR. Learning first aid techniques can help you cope in an emergency – to help keep someone breathing, reduce their pain or minimise the consequences of injury or illness until an ambulance arrives. 

It is important to realise that CPR is lifesaving and should be rendered to collapsed individuals regardless of their gender, race or ethnicity. Quality chest compressions require rescuers to put their hands on the chest and push hard. The act of CPR is no different for either gender.

In Australia, there are laws that protect people who come to the aid of someone apparently requiring emergency assistance. In Western Australia, this is the Civil Liability Act 2002. If you provide first aid without being reckless and within your training, you are protected from civil liability. These laws are there to encourage people to respond and provide first aid, and to alleviate any concerns about being held personally responsible for what happens in a first aid situation.

Everyone can be a lifesaver.

Watch our video and find out how easy it is to learn first aid and CPR. You never know when you might need it.


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