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Accomplice by Inaction

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Igraine: I never did anything to hurt you!
Morgan: Indeed, my lady. You did nothing. You did nothing when my father had my mother killed so that you could sit in her place. As you did nothing when my father banished me.
Igraine: No queen questions her king.
Morgan: And I thought my opinion of you couldn't get any lower.
— Starz's Camelot, during Igraine and Morgan's second scene together

Somebody was around as a crime was being committed, but did nothing. Now the victim wants them brought to account.


Audience and writer sympathy for each party (on one hand, the accusers, be they the victim or not, and on the other, the accused) can vary, depending on a variety of factors. The work can evaluate the so-called accomplice's responsibility for the crime simply by establishing whether it was done with the bystander being oblivious or knowing all along. Sometimes, there will be someone to point out that it also depends on whether that character refused to help, was also another innocent victim, or was simply incapable to offer help. Therefore, the accuser can really go anywhere between the top and the lower-middle part of the Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness (understandable if not a real Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds) if they are themselves unjust while addressing injustice.

Compare Failure-to-Save Murder, which has a strong overlap rate. Compare and contrast Cruel Mercy, which the non-intervention may be from the point of view of the inactive party, thus making the accusation justified to the most irrational, death-seeking victims.


See also a common cause for this trope, Moral Myopia, All-Powerful Bystander (who is likely to be seen as this), Lawful Stupid, While Rome Burns and You Were Trying Too Hard, for the almost-opposite. Contrast Murder by Inaction.

Possible overlap with Hitler Ate Sugar and Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy, could involve Insane Troll Logic in some cases.

Compare and contrast With Us or Against Us.

Related to Bystander Syndrome.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Maken-ki!: During season 2's fifth episode, Aki tells her parents she's dating Takeru to avoid being pressured into marriage. So her parents have him kidnapped and stranded on an island with her in hopes they'd "make memories" together. When Haruko and Himgami find out, they race to the island under the assumption that Takeru has run off with Aki, who could have cleared up the confusion by explaining what really happened. Instead, Aki lets Takeru take a beating for a situation that wasn't his fault. At the end of the episode, she admits that she didn't say anything because seeing Haruko and Himegami jealous of her, made her feel young again.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Following the Kamino Ward Incident, during which five of Class A's students provide a small, but critical moment of aid in the rescue of a kidnapped classmate, Class A's teacher Aizawa takes them to task afterward for going off on their own and against instructions. He berates not just the five who went out, but the rest of the class who were fully aware of what they were planning and did nothing to stop them beyond futile attempts at persuading them not to go. Aizawa goes on to declare that had the Kamino Inicdent not become such a Game Changer and that they would soon need every Hero they could get, he would have expelled the entire class save the kidnapped classmate and two others who were, at the time, unconscious in the hospital from a prior attack and unable to intervene.
    • In the same episode, Tsuyu had a lot of regret when realizing her usual Brutal Honesty about the situation (going so far as to compare the students on the mission to villains) was too harsh, and doing nothing at all hurt even worse. She avoids them until she finds the courage to tearfully apologize and set things straight.
  • In Eternal Sabbath, the abusive mother of the young girl Yuri was herself horrifically abused by her violent father as a child. However she eventually admits that, while she hated and feared her father, she hated her mother just as much if not more for being too cowardly to try and protect her beyond meekly asking him to stop. Whenever her father beat her, her mother would buy her candy to try and apologise to her, but she could never even taste it.
  • In Persona 5: The Animation, Ren happens upon Youji Isshiki being beaten up by loan sharks, and simply walks off, letting it happen. By this point, Ren's learned that Youji was abusive to his niece Futaba while caring for her, so it's clear that he has no intention of helping Youji.
  • In Attack on Titan, Floch, when criticizing Eren's decision to use the Titan serum to save Armin's life rather than Erwin's, a decision that Eren had convinced Levi to accept, also calls out the other Survey Corps members for not intervening to try to stop Eren.

    Comic Books 
  • In W.I.T.C.H., Ari of Arkhanta, who possesses a slave he uses only for his greedy motives, has a massive grudge against the oracle of Kandrakhar, the benevolent figure who saves everyone's life once a week. Why? Unlike the man, who obsessed about changing his son, the Oracle didn't ever try to "cure" the child's autism.
  • This is the main motivation of "Public Enemy" from the Marvel 2099 verse. A genetically-engineered super soldier, he bears a grudge against the corporation Alchemax for murdering his parents. Even after tracking down and killing everyone involved in the Red Dog project, he still feels like the really guilty party hasn't been punished. He then witnesses a crazed gunman about to kill a woman, while dozens of pedestrians either ignore it or talk about what a shame it is. After rescuing her, a crowd of people gather around him to tell him what a hero he was. Incensed at their inaction, he murders them all on the spot. He realizes that who he truly hates are the public who allow bad things to happen while claiming innocence. He kills more crowds of people who were witnesses to crimes and did nothing to stop them, eventually coming into conflict with The Punisher. During a battle between the two, he's surrounded by a crowd of people who were related to his victims. They all attack him with bricks, pipes, and whatever else they have on hand. As the crowd swarms him, Public Enemy yells out encouragement to them, overjoyed that they're finally doing what he wanted them to do even as they tear him apart.
  • This was part of a very large plotline in the Spider-Man comics, involving Tombstone and Daily Bugle editor Joe Robinson. Tombstone had bullied Joe when they were kids, and eventually, Joe witnessed Tombstone - now a hitman working for the Kingpin kill a man, and after the thug threatened him, he kept quiet for decades. In the present time, Joe finally came forward when the Kingpin used the assassin in a failed attempt at Spidey, but Joe was arrested and convicted of withholding evidence. (In truth, both the DA and judge were bought by the Kingpin; this led to another storyline where Tombstone attempted to gain revenge on him in prison, which eventually ended in Joe gaining a Presidential pardon; still, the issue with Tombstone lasted much longer...)
    • A variation of this trope in his origin story — standing by idly as the burglar who later would murder Uncle Ben escaped — of course continues to be the driving motivation for Spider-Man himself.
  • The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers: Invoked when Squadron X were killed. The Decepticons were all arrested, but because it was on a neutral world they couldn't be held. Impactor took a gun, locked himself in and shot them all to death. All the Wreckers stood by except Springer who tried to stop him (but couldn't as he was injured) and let him. Afterward they confessed to Springer that they were too stunned or scared to stop him, and had fallen under Bystander Syndrome. Springer, tired of all the death believed them and Impactor was jailed alone. Much later in life Roadbuster confessed to a comatose Springer that they did nothing because they agreed with Impactor and were unwilling to stop him, afterward they just wanted to avoid prison time.
  • Watchmen: After the Comedian shoots a woman who'd just slashed his face (in anger at being told that he intended to abandon her after getting her pregnant), he chews out Dr. Manhattan for just standing there and letting it all happen when he could have easily used his immense powers to stop it.

    Fan Works 
  • In Harry's New Home, Snape and Harry start distrusting and in the latter case, outright fearing Dumbledore when they realize it was Dumbledore's fault that no one checked up on Harry and why Sirius never got a trial.
  • This is also the treatment of Dumbledore in A Little Light Reading.
  • In I'm Here To Help, Pluto sets off the entire plot by standing by and letting Emerald escape to the past.
  • In With This Ring, Orange Lantern is infuriated that the Justice League lets Nabu possess Zatara without concern for Zatara himself or considering that Zatara's consent was meaningless due to being blackmailed by Nabu holding Zatanna hostage. Especially when Paul and Zatanna had to find out from the news they let Nabu into the Justice League.
  • In A Man of Iron, Tyrion tears a new asshole into Cersei when she tries to defend herself by saying she did nothing, when it was precisely that - doing nothing to curb Joffrey's cruelty or work towards a peaceful resolution of the War of the Five Kings - that caused it to happen and also Sansa Stark's death.
  • In chapter 54 of Ambience: A Fleet Symphony, Damon executes a mook who, although not a direct perpetrator of a certain evil, did nothing to stop it from happening and can't offer a good reason why.
  • It's Over, Isn't It (it's only just begun): Kurogiri believes that he's left his criminal past behind him after All For One's demise, running a bar that he treats as a neutral space, only intervening when he notices things he dislikes, such as kicking bar brawlers out or ejecting anyone he catches tampering with drinks. Fiver, however, challenges his supposed neutrality, calling him out for everything he doesn't intervene with, such as Giran's shady dealings.
    Fiver: "What the fuck are you actually doing, Kurogiri? You think you're staying out of it, when you let scum like Giran work your bar? Get bent. You’re not neutral, you just roll over for whoever's already winning."
  • Witness (Good Neighbors) has Mortar and other members of Endeavor's agency who are well aware of how he treats his son, but choose not to intervene. Shouto knows this, and his thoughts make clear that he resents their refusal to act.
  • Burning Bridges, Building Confidence:
    • Adrien is well aware that Lila is a Consummate Liar, but decides to stand by and let her turn the rest of the class against Marinette through Malicious Slander. Even worse, he attempts to convince Marinette that it's her fault for standing up for herself rather than "taking the high road" like him. When Cole and the rest of her new Girl Posse find out, they're understandably furious and accuse him of this.
    • Adelaide's thoughts in The Night After make clear that she sees Principal Damocles as one. While he does act after Alya assaulted her daughter, he's only doing so for fear of facing legal recourse (which ultimately doesn't work since Adelaide still ends up suing the school), since he allowed the situation to go on completely unaddressed until circumstances ensured he couldn't turn a blind eye anymore.
  • The One To Make It Stay: Nino didn't help Alya film Chat's Love Confession. Nor did he agree with her plan to edit the footage to make it look like Ladybug reciprocated and post the results on her blog. In fact, he was made rather uncomfortable by the whole thing. But rather than sharing his concerns, he stayed silent, standing aside and letting her do it. As a result, when Ladybug sidelines Rena Rouge for the summer, she decides to bench Carapace as well. Notably, Nino takes the news better than Alya; while not happy about it, he recognizes the point Ladybug's making.
  • While only a handful of Marinette's classmates help Alya and Lila rip apart her sketchbook in to lose someone, the rest of them stood aside and let it happen. Marinette also specifically calls out fellow artist Nathanael not just for letting them ruin her work, but for never commenting on how none of them ever paid her for her efforts on their behalf.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Zira blames Kovu after Nuka dies in the fight with Simba.
    Kovu: "I did nothing!"
    Zira: "Exactly! And in doing so, you betrayed your pride, betrayed Scar!"
    Kovu: "I want nothing more to do with him!"
    Zira: "You cannot escape it! Nuka is dead because of you! You've killed your own brother!"
    Kovu: "NO!" [runs off]

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight has this somewhat as the reason for Harvey's rampage, as he goes after everybody who had something to do with Rachel Dawes' death. He goes from blaming the man that had her strapped to a bomb, to blaming the people who originally hired him before he started acting out on his own, to blaming the people who were actively trying to save her, but had allowed corrupt cops to remain on the force.
  • In the film adaptation of Night Watch, a cornered vampire girl blames the Night Watch (ostensibly the good guys) for her turning into a vampire and subsequent crimes, since the vampire who turned her was doing so legally under the Balance Between Good and Evil treaty, so the Night Watch couldn't intervene.
  • The Danish film Festen (The Celebration), set during a family reunion for a 60th birthday party, centres on the revelation by eldest son Christian that he and his twin sister were sexually abused by their father. When his mother tries to intervene, he calls her out for ignoring the abuse and says "I'm so grateful to have such a twisted hypocrite for a mother. I wish you were dead."
  • In Natural Born Killers, after Mickey kills Mallory's abusive father, Mallory kills her mother because she never did anything to try and stop Dad.
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) states this reason for why the castle servants were changed into furniture and kitchen utensils by the Sorceress. Yes, they did not refuse the old woman charity, but they also didn't stop the Prince's abusive father from raising him to become a selfish jerk.

  • In A Brother's Price, the princesses' late father is mentioned to have been an Extreme Doormat, who stood by and watched while his son-in-law emotionally abused the younger princesses, and one time even tortured and raped one of them in the room next door. Though it is not clear whether the latter is just an exaggerated accusation, he might not have been there at the time. There is also Eldest, the eldest princess, who could have divorced their husband. She was told about his crime afterwards, but did nothing, because the (very beautiful) husband had her wrapped around his little finger.
  • In Dragon Bones, Ward and his younger brother Tosten are bitter about their mother, Muellen never doing something against their abusive father. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that she was a rather weak woman, while her husband was unusually tall and stronger than most other men. For some reason, they never accuse their uncle Duraugh or their aunt Stala, both of whom would have been much more capable of stopping the abuse, of the same. Oreg points out that Muellen wasn't even able to protect herself, but for Ward and Tosten, the trauma is too deeply ingrained; they probably think their mother should have protected them because, well, she's their parent.
  • In Samuel Richarson's Clarissa (1747-48), the longest book ever written in the English language, the heroine's mother and her aunt look like this from a modern reader's perspective because they never oppose the father when he does his best to force the heroine into an arranged marriage. Richardson seemed to partially agree, at least for the good aunt Hervey, whom he describes in the preface as "lacking the courage to go against so strong a steam, [and] sailing with it".

  • Céline Raphael's La Démesure: This biopic is a testimony of her life as a child and young teenager with an unbelievably physically and emotionally abusive Stage Dad.
    • Céline's mother never confronted the father about the abuse in the first years, and the reader may assume that they didn't know. Then, halfway through the book, she writes about how unsettling it must have been for her mother and sister to hear all the abuse from behind the closed door of the room her father locked her in for practice. She never had a grudge against her mother.
    • Céline's little sister, Marie, had a limp. When she was invited to walk with Céline and their father, she would be hit with a stick if she didn't follow quickly enough. Céline wasn't abused if Marie came on the walk, but was abused if she didn't, so she (and their mother) would yell at her if she refused to go on a walk.
    • Céline had a P.E. teacher who taunted her for failing to attend his classes (because her father forbade her to, for practice) out of pure anger towards her and her family enjoying superior social standing and being allegedly able to break rules. It is one of the rare persons she seems to still resent and look down upon.
  • Found in Jane Austen's works and played differently:
    • Love and Freindship, this is used for comedic effect, when Laura and Sophia are furious with the latter's cousin, Mac Donald, because he didn't sigh nor weep when he heard that they had been abandoned by their grandfather. He just saved them, providing them with shelter, food and stability.
    • Played for Drama in Sense and Sensibility, since the eldest brother refuses to give anything to his sisters despite his father's unofficial will and his promise at his father's deathbed. They despise him for his neglect and for being a condescending, pitiless, Innocently Insensitive weakling.
    • Mary Crawford of Mansfield Park doesn't seem like a malicious and unworthy woman for Edmund; she is lively and engaging and even saves Fanny from Mrs. Norris at one point. But she refuses to do or oppose anything if it would interfere with her own comfort, and barely protests her brother's plan to woo and then dump Fanny just to satisfy his ego.
    • In The Watsons (unfinished novel), the heroine despises the brother who gained financial independence and could have helped her sister while she, despite being in a higher situation, couldn't do anything, but he chose not to do anything except invite his favorite sister occasionally.
  • Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky. "Fedka the convict" bugs Nikolai Stavrogin for some money, and Stavrogin eventually complies. Afterwards, Stavrogin realizes why Fedka was asking for the money—in a very indirect way, Fedka was offering to kill Stavrogin's wife and brother-in-law in exchange for cash. Realizing this Stavrogin leaps into action and... does nothing, until his wife and brother-in-law die at Fedka's hand. He outright says, the morning after, that even if he isn't legally guilty of the murders, he considers himself morally guilty.
  • In The Fountainhead, Gail Wynand was once nearly beaten to death as a youth by a drunken longshoreman. Wynand dragged himself to a saloon and asked for help for the first and last time in his life when the saloonkeeper found him. The saloonkeeper simply went back inside without a word. Years later, the now wealthy and powerful Wynand still remembered the longshoreman and the saloonkeeper. Wynand never did anything to the longshoreman. He utterly ruined the saloonkeeper's life, driving him to suicide.
  • In The Irregular at Magic High School, the narration makes a point of telling us that, had Tatsuya known about the plot to bomb a stadium full of innocent people, he would have done nothing to stop it although he was fully capable of doing so.
  • In the Discworld Night Watch, Vimes accuses the old, bad Watch when his squad says that they shouldn't be targeted by the mobs because they didn't do anything. Vimes agrees—they didn't do anything to try and protect innocent people from the State Sec or criminals alike, and that's why they're in trouble now.
  • The Novelization of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock has David committing this. Whereas the movie has David using the highly unstable protomatter in the Genesis device, the book instead has the rest of the development team using it instead. While David did have misgivings and even verbally objected over the protomatter, Saavik berates him as he ultimately did nothing to stop his colleagues.
  • The ninth poem of Vita Nuova accuses those who see the poet struck to death by beauty of sinning if they do not comfort the poet in his weakness.
  • In Worm Taylor says in a "Reason You Suck" Speech that Charlotte is almost as guilty as the rest of the school for watching as Taylor was constantly bullied by Emma and Sophia.
  • In Glorious Appearing from the Left Behind series, during Jesus' judgment of the "sheep and goats", Jesus judges the "goats" (most likely Global Community and Nicolae Carpathia loyalists) for doing nothing good for "the least of My brethren" (contextually talking about the people of Israel), saying that what they didn't do for them, they also didn't do for Him. In other words, they're just as guilty as if they were actively coming against the Jews and Christians themselves, and doing that to the Jews means you're also doing that to Christ.
  • Animal Farm's Benjamin the donkey is this in a sense. He knows what the Pigs are up to and how downhill things'll go but we don't see him warn the other animals or do anything about it, allowing the revolution to go full circle. However, given how Napoleon ordered a mass execution, he might be a justified case of this trope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Babylon 5, the whole plot where Londo could have stopped everything bad that happened to the Narns with "One word."
  • Camelot: Morgan's reason for hating Igraine is apparently this, as Igraine never opposed her father when he tried to destroy her childhood. It appears later on that there is also a dose of Irrational Hatred in this since Igraine couldn't have escaped Uther's will (he was really a domineering violent king). When Morgan stabs Igraine in the season 1 finale, her stepmother reveals that Uther wanted to kill his own daughter, and that she convinced him to simply send her away in a convent to protect Morgan.
  • Desperate Housewives has this as the main motive of Paul Young in Season 6, after the titular housewives knew he was framed for murder and refused to do anything to assist. Further, they also refused to visit him or show him any kindness.
  • In the backstory of Justified Hunter Mosley was the sheriff of Harlan County when Henry Crowder kidnapped, raped and murdered Mosley's young niece. Henry fled and the other members of the Crowder family refused to reveal where he was hiding. Mosley made a Deal with the Devil with a Miami drug cartel and with their help located Henry and murdered him in revenge. He then went after the other Crowders and while he could not have them arrested as Henry's accomplices, there were plenty of other crimes they were guilty of and could be sent to prison for. Even years later he still holds a grudge against the Crowders even though the remaining members of the family had no role in the matter.
    • Ava Crowder was abused for years by her husband Bowman until she finally had enough and shot him dead. All the locals knew what was happening and have no real problem with what she did since they feel that Bowman deserved what happened to him. However, when they try to express this sentiment to her she rebukes them because none of them tried to help her when she was abused so their words mean nothing to her. The only one to apologize for his inaction is Bowman's brother Boyd and Ava forgives him after he risks his own life to save her from his father Bo Crowder.
    • This trope is subverted by Limehouse who runs the black community of Noble's Hollar and has for years offered sanctuary to the abused women of Harlam County. As a result Limehouse now has a network of grateful women who provide him with information on all the important things happening in the region.
  • Canonically, on Once Upon a Time, this is probably supposed to be Regina's motivation for extracting revenge on Snow White, who was manipulated by Regina's mother Cora into revealing the identity of Regina's lover, all despite swearing to never to say a word about it to Cora, who then killed him. This is left ambiguous and she may believe that Snow White was more than negligent and planed it all from the start.
    Regina: (having an Indulgent Fantasy Segue about strangling the girl) "My mother corrupts young souls. If you had been stronger, none of this would've ever have happened..."
  • Seinfeld's infamous series finale double-episode has the gang arrested for watching a man get mugged and making fun of his weight instead of trying to help him. Footage of their snide commentary makes the news, causing their trial to get lots of publicity. The prosecuting attorney brings up everybody they managed to somehow piss off to testify about their horrible character.
  • Subverted in an episode of Taggart; members of a criminal gang are being murdered and the prime suspect is the daughter of a have-a-go-hero who got beaten to death for his trouble (by the leader, the other gang members just stood by). They arrest her after she shoots said leader however when they try to call her out for killing the other gang members, she denies it. They realize that said leader had manipulated her into shooting him (he was wearing a bullet proof vest) and was the one who killed his former partners in crime.
  • In V (2009), this culminates for Erica after she must watch her ex-husband die in her arms because of an attack by the aliens, just after escaping that everyone thinks was a kidnapping, and is just narrowly cleared of accusations of being The Mole. But this is not over, because she must bear her son Tyler's sneering comments about how she couldn't save her husband and should have, leading to Failure-to-Save Murder. She is understandably angry and depressed and this sounds shocking to her, just like the cases of teenagers chastising the church for not meddling in V politics. Though, when you read Tyler's previous actions, you realize that he often blamed her for not helping the cute (ruthless homicidal totalitarian) and charismatic Hive Queen of the Vs, his friends, or himself when she could barely intervene...
  • One episode of Supernatural features a psychic boy out to kill his abusive father and uncle. He's also after his mother, because she didn't do anything to stop it.
  • The Haunting Hour: In "Mrs. Worthington", the titular villian planned to punish Nate's mother for not doing anything to stop Molly from bullying Nate.
  • The season 1 CSI episode "Blood Drops" has the team investigating a murder scene where the parents and two sons of a family were killed in their home, but the two daughters survived. Turns out Dad had been sexually abusing the older teenage daughter, leading to the birth of the younger one. He then turned his attention to the younger daughter, who was seven at the time. The teenage daughter hired her boyfriend and some of his friends to kill Dad to stop the abuse, and had the other family members killed because they never tried to stop Dad.
  • On The 100, Clarke and Lexa know that Mount Weather is going to launch a missile at a village. They could evacuate the village in advance of the missile, but that would tip off Mount Weather that they have an informant inside the mountain. To preserve this secret, Clarke and Lexa tell no one about the missile and simply save themselves. Abby and Octavia, who were in the village when it hit, do not take this well.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Duet it turns out that Kira's Cardassian prisoner is pretending to be an infamous war criminal. He was actually a minor functionary who simply did his job while the war crimes were going on all around him. He feels so guilty about his silent complicity that he wants to get himself executed in a public reckoning for his people's crimes.
  • The 4400: In "Rebirth", NTAC discovers that Edwin Mayuya, a Rwandan member of the 4400, emigrated to the United States in April 1994 using a false identity. His real name is Edwin Musinga and he is wanted by the Rwanda government for aiding and abetting the Tutsi genocide. Musinga was a Hutu who ran a clinic which primarily catered to Tutsis. The police approached him and asked if he would allow the clinic to be used as a safe house for the Tutsi. He agreed and the word quickly spread among the local Tutsi community. Within three hours, the clinic was full. However, unbeknownst to Musinga, it was a trap. The police returned and slaughtered the Tutsi. While Musinga did not kill anyone personally, he did nothing to prevent the massacre as he blamed the Tutsi for the Hutu President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira's plane being shot down.
  • In the third season of Game of Thrones, several guards help Lord Karstark kill two young Lannister squires who'd been held hostage, as revenge for the deaths of Karstark's children. Robb orders the men responsible hanged, and when one protests that he was only the watcher, Robb decides to have him hanged last so he can watch the others die.
  • Criminal Minds uses it sometimes as character backstory, regarding the target of the unsub's anger.
    • One of the unsubs in the episode "The Perfect Storm" had an abusive father and brother. When the police finally got involved, the mother covered for them, claiming the unsub was lying about the abuse. The person the unsub blames most is, of course, the mother for enabling the abuse, not the father and brother for actually enacting it.
    • Likewise, in the Poorly Disguised Pilot for Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, the European unsub was abused by his father, but his American stepmother and stepsiblings were spared the abuse (it's never specified how aware of the situation they were, but no indication was given that they participated). Thus, his rage is targeted towards American families (with particular hatred for the father figures).
    • One episode had an unsub going after the bullies who drove his friend to suicide in high school. Well, one of the bullies, and also the parents of the girlfriend of another bully (he was out of town), and also the principal who he felt didn't do enough to remedy the situation, and also a substitute teacher who did help break up a prank, but apparently not well enough.
    • The unsub in "Elephant's Memory" targets his revenge attacks at the actual people who he feels actively harmed him (the football team who bullied him, his negligent father, and his girlfriend's abusive father). It's Reid who insists on assigning responsibility on those who could have stepped in sooner, but didn't. He outright tells a room full of police officers that they could have prevented his murder spree.

    Tabletop Games 

  • A widely-circulated Urban Legend about Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" is that the song is about an incident where Collins witnessed a man refusing to help a drowning victim. In one version, he allegedly sang the song to the man in concert after arranging a front-row seat. The man was supposedly Driven to Suicide afterward.
  • "The Night Will Only Know" by Garth Brooks has a pair of cheating lovers witnessing the murder of a woman. The killer goes free because the lovers don't want to confess to their adultery.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • In the Book of Ezekiel, God warns Ezekiel a few times that if he as a watchman does not warn the people of Israel to repent so that they will not die because of their sins, and they end up dying, then He will hold him responsible for their deaths.
    • Matthew 25:41-45 indicates those who neglect to do good when the Day of Judgment will be cast into Hell with those who actively seek to do evil.
      "41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
      42 For I was hungry, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink:
      43 I was a stranger, and you did not take me in: naked, and you did not clothe me: sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.
      44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not help you?
      45 Then shall he answer them, saying, truly I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."
    • James 4:17 shows us what theologians call the "Sin of Omission". It's not just doing evil that is sinful, but also not doing good when given the chance.
      "Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin."
  • Ulysses is constantly blamed for the amount of mind-boggling STUPID his crew members wreak. They are always eager to disobey the orders of the superior forces, and when he tries to apologize for them, he is usually held responsible.
  • Electra has the poor Chrysothemis, who seems to be blamed for not really taking a side in the terrible family conflict. She is sweet and is well-adjusted, so she probably will have an easy life...
  • King Arthur:
    • After Lancelot hesitates a second and then jeopardizes his reputation and future for Guinevere — by getting in cart, making him look like someone going to his execution — in some versions of Arthurian legend, she refuses to even look at him. He thinks this is because he demeaned himself and is thoroughly humiliated. Actually, it is because he didn't totally humiliate himself immediately.
    • In The Once and Future King, King Arthur and quite a few others are this in regards to the adulterous affair between Guinevere and Lancelot. The reason for it is because everyone knows that the sentence for adultery is burning at the stake, and no one, least of all Arthur, wants to see the two killed. As a result, the affair becomes something of an open secret, with everyone refraining from pressing the matter. When Mordred and Agravaine bring the matter to Arthur, not only are their brothers angry with them for drawing attention to the issue, but Arthur says that he won't help or hinder them in their efforts to prove the adultery (though he does openly admit he hopes Lancelot will kill all their witnesses).

    Video Games 
  • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, Sanaki accuses Hetzel of doing this for over twenty years when she finds out that he could've at least tried to stop his superiors from committing atrocities over the years, one of which was locking her away. Needless, to say, he does NOT walk away alive.
  • Portal 2. During the Final Boss fight against Wheatley, he suffers a severe Villainous Breakdown, in which he - among other things - expresses resentment against Chell for not catching him at the beginning of the game (something which, by the way, is impossible to pull off). For a robot, he sounds awfully close to tears...
    Wheatley: "And another thing! You never caught me! I told you I could DIE falling off that rail, and you DIDN'T CATCH ME! YOU DIDN'T EVEN TRY!"
  • In Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten Judge Nemo considers everyone evil because no one but Artina helped him when he was tortured as a prisoner of war, but what really pushed him over the edge was when Artina was executed for her kindness to him.
  • In the game Misao, Kudou saw Misao being bullied, but didn't take action against it, and Misao executes him by driving a car over him.
  • World of Warcraft: Grand Magister Rommath (along other blood elves) hate the Kirin Tor because they did nothing when every elf in Dalaran, a city many of them considered home, was imprisoned and sentenced to death because of a false accusation.
    Rommath: "A monumental betrayal. In Dalaran, beneath the ever watchful eyes of the Kirin Tor."
    Aethas Sunreaver: "They really had nothing to do with —"
    Rommath: "I assume you mean that the Kirin Tor did nothing. Did nothing to prevent it, did nothing to stop it. And instead left us to rot in the prisons beneath a city many of us called home as much as ever we did Silvermoon."
    • Related is the reason the blood elves were imprisoned in the first place. Garrosh infiltrated the Sunreavers and used the Sunreavers' portal network to steal the Divine Bell. The Sunreavers themselves knew nothing about this plan—but Jaina Proudmoore, head of the Kirin Tor, believed otherwise, and accused them of looking the other way while Garrosh did his thing.
  • Godot in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations hates Phoenix Wright because he did nothing to stop Mia from getting killed—never mind that Phoenix couldn't have done anything under the circumstances, and knew nothing of the danger she was in. In actuality, this is displaced anger at himself for not stopping Mia from getting killed—never mind that he was in a coma at the time. It's heavily implied Godot is not all there.
  • In Virtue's Last Reward, Luna considers herself one, since they knew about the Nonary Game and the players, but was ordered to remain silent. Indeed, she's actually programmed to die if she disobeys orders.
    Luna: [as they're being shut down for good] "I watched six people die and did nothing. I deserve this."
  • This is a major theme of Persona 5. Many of the villains bring up the fact they can do the horrible things they've done because the general public are more interested in being told what to do than doing what's right on their own. Makoto Nijima initially struggles with this, since she suspected Evil Teacher Kamoshida's abuses, but never did anything about it, which puts her on rough terms with Ann at first (until Ann realizes that she also didn't do anything to help Shiho). Comes to a head in the final dungeon, which turns out to be the Mental World of the entire population of Tokyo, who would rather turn a blind eye to corruption in authority to maintain societal order. They collectively represent the Deadly Sin of Sloth.
  • In Final Fantasy XV, Ravus never forgave the kingdom of Lucis or its king, Regis, for abandoning his home of Tenebrae to be conquered by the Empire of Niflheim. Strangely, he decides to carry out his revenge by allying himself with Niflheim to help them conquer Lucis.
  • In Ensemble Stars!, Natsume calls out Tsumugi for just sitting back and allowing Eichi to systematically destroy the Oddballs, claiming that knowing about a crime and doing nothing about it is the same as committing the crime itself. Except Tsumugi wasn't an idle bystander. He actually provided Eichi with a lot of insight and ideas, including bringing Natsume's existence and potential as an Oddball to his attention.
  • In Final Fantasy VI, General Leo confesses to Terra that he feels this way about Kefka using the Slave Crown to take away her free will, and says that because he didn't do anything to stop it, he considers himself no better than Kefka.
  • In Kingdom Hearts II, during the first visit to the Land of Dragons, when Mulan is exposed as a woman, Shang realizes that Sora, Donald and Goofy knew the truth and kept it from him, so he gives them the same punishment.
  • In Until Dawn, the prank on Hannah mainly involved Mike, Emily and Jessica. The others weren't as involved. Ashley gleefully observed it. Matt filmed it. Sam's involvement was unclear; she does tell the others that the prank was cruel, but she went upstairs to either warn Hannah or tell her Mike is ready for her. The only innocent ones would be Josh and Chris, both who were passed out drunk, and Beth. Because of Josh's mental state after the deaths of his sisters, they viewed all the friends as this way.

    Web Comics 
  • In Drowtales, Kousei, one of the few surviving Judicators, accuses the Holy Mother Valla'drielle of this while the rest of the Judicators were being killed. She doesn't exactly deny it, and it's implied that she willingly turned a blind eye to it because the Judicators were using her as a puppet and it allowed her to be rid of them without having to take direct action.
  • Riverside Extras: Arguably, Ophelia when Meredith Baxter gets her fingers cut off. She feels bad about it.
    Ophelia: "I am... extraordinarily sorry about what happened tonight. It wasn't my intention that anyone get hurt."
    Meredith: "You did nothing."
    Ophelia: "Please try to understand my position. If I had shown the smallest sliver of empathy - if I had begged - they wouldn't have stopped."
    Meredith: "So you're blameless. How convenient."
    • Ironically, Simon, who is more culpable for what happened to Meredith than Ophelia is, makes the same excuses when Ophelia calls him out on his part in the incident.
    • Cynthia and Derry in "Queenside" when Ma forces Ophelia, theoretically equal in rank to the other Sisters, to dress and act as a maid at an official Rose-Ink parley to humiliate her and goad Simon. Derry has shown anger and remorse at her actions; Cynthia's feelings remain ambiguous.
  • In the universe of Kill Six Billion Demons, the pacifistic masters of the martial art known as Ki Rata did nothing while the conquering god Yammod ravaged their home world of Rakuba, other than take in and train one soldier whose family was murdered and home burned. By the time the soldier had finished his training, Rakuba was cold and lifeless. The first thing the former soldier did at this point was to murder all of the Ki Rata masters for their choice not to intervene. The soldier would then move on to kill Yammod and usurp his godhood, becoming Solomon David, one of the seven current god-kings of the universe.

    Web Videos 
  • The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: After Lizzie learns that Bing Lee simply left her sister Jane because his sister Caroline and his friend Darcy told him that she wasn't interested in him, she is about to forgive him. Then, she realizes that he understood the situation later, but couldn't muster the courage to do anything. And from that point, she hates him.
  • In Squaresville, it is hinted that the group of protagonists which we follow are a bunch of social outcasts. They are victims, if not of bullying, at least of condescending remarks from the other children, even the more "conformist" outcasts. The most jaded of them all, Esther, has a grudge against Shelly, a girl who "escaped" their current condition, and did nothing to help.

    Western Animation 
  • In Castlevania, Dracula puts all of Wallachia to the slaughter for the murder of his wife, Lisa. It was the Bishop of a town that ordered Lisa burned at the stake for being a witch because she was a woman who wanted to study the sciences, but the townspeople did nothing to stop it, even cheering when Lisa was burned. It's that moment that convinces Dracula that Humans Are the Real Monsters, and they all deserve to die.
  • Diane Nguyen from BoJack Horseman says that when her siblings and father beat her, her mother Ma would stand idly by, only snarking or being indifferent.
  • South Park: In "Pre-School", we find out that the main characters were at fault for getting troublemaker Trent Boyett sent off to juvie in pre-school. Butters, who witnessed the whole thing, refused to defend Trent, being more concerned about possibly getting into trouble with his parents. As a result, Butters is Trent's first victim when he's released, and is brutally assaulted into a coma.

    Real Life 
  • This is very much Truth in Television in certain situations, as far as the legal system goes, since you can be prosecuted for not taking any action to help someone in peril (officially known as the duty to rescue concept). These are often tacked onto Good Samaritan Laws which protect people who try to help, but fail to do so, make it worse by accident, or other such technicalities like lack of consent.
    • Duty to rescue falls under two broad categories. The first category is when the person in question created the dangerous situation that someone else needs to be saved from, they're responsible for doing so. The second is that people who are considered to be responsible for others (parents, the captain of a ship or airplane, an employer, a property owner who invites someone onto their property, and in many places, spouses) are required to rescue those they are responsible for.
  • The former slave Jermain Wesley Loguen had this to write to his former mistress.
    Loguen: "Where are my poor bleeding brothers and sisters? Can you tell? Who was it that sent them off into sugar and cotton fields, to be kicked, and cuffed, and whipped, and to groan and die; and where no kin can hear their groans, or attend and sympathize at their dying bed, or follow in their funeral? Wretched woman! Do you say you did not do it? Then I reply, your husband did, and you approved the deed—and the very letter you sent me shows that your heart approves it all. Shame on you."
  • Céline Rapahaël, a Frenchwoman victim of a Stage Dad, wrote a book about the abuse she underwent. The examples are treated in the Literature section.
  • In "Srebrenica - A Cry from the Grave" (a documentary about The Bosnian Genocide), one woman whose son was killed in the Srebrenica massacre at one point says "We offer a prayer to those killed by our enemies; the Dutch enemies, and the Serb enemies". For those wondering why she considers the Dutch her enemies, it is because the (mostly Dutch) UN Peacekeepers tasked with protecting Srebrenica abandoned their checkpoints and allowed the Serbs to massacre the population.
  • When crown prince Frederick of Prussia (later Frederick the Great) was captured in an attempt to flee the country in 1730, his friend Hans Hermann von Katte was court-martialed and found guilty of being an accomplice in the attempted act of desertion (and subsequently executed by order of the king Frederick William I) because he knew about Frederick's plans but did not report them to his superiors, as would have been his duty as a Prussian officer.
  • This is what doomed Erwin Rommel following the failed July 20 plot. Historians still differ as to his exact role, but at the very least, he knew about the plot and did nothing to stop it.
    • And on the topic of Nazi Germany, there's the famous "First they came..." quote.
      Martin Niemöller: "First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."
    • This also got people in trouble who knew about the Holocaust and did nothing to stop it, or who deliberately avoided knowledge of what happened to all those pesky Jews.
  • One of Alexander the Great's generals was executed either for being part of a plot against him, or knowing about the plot but not reporting it.
  • In Mexico, there's a very specific word for this kind of behaviour, and it's named Alcahuete.
  • Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, famously stated that the "white moderate" was a greater stumbling block to the erasure of racial injustice than the outright discriminatory racists due to the former's inaction against racially unjust laws. (See Quotes section for full quote)
  • According to the Athenian laws, during internal disputes, any citizen had to either join a faction, or lose his rights.
  • When there is an Abusive Parent in a household of two parents, the other would be considered an accomplice by not standing up to the abuser for the sake of their children, even if there are circumstances where the unabusive parent would not be able to be in a position to help their children at all.
  • In psychology, enablement is this, as, if the enabler isn't outright encouraging a self-destructive/negative behavior in the other person, they're definitely not stopping or speaking out against it either.


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