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Kitty Genovese’s Murder and the Bystander Effect


The phenomenon of the Bystander Effect has gained quite large notoriety in the world of social work, psychology, and the related sciences. Multiple studies conducted to examine the problem of the Bystander Effect have proven that the subject matter exists and increases the threat faced by vulnerable populations (Levine et al. 275). Although the Bystander Effect is rooted in one of the main instincts, namely, the one of self-preservation, creating the environment for calling out an instance of crime committed in public is a possibility.

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Kitty Genovese’s Murder and the Definition of the Bystander Effect

The murder of Catherine Susan Genovese, also known as Kitty Genovese, occurred on March 13, 1964, and is typically considered the primary illustration of the Bystander Effect. On the day of her death, Kitty Genovese was being followed by Winston Moseley, who would later on assault her with a knife. Kitty did everything to attract people’s attention, including screaming and fighting, yet only a few neighbors heard her, and only one of them responded (Kassin 375). Remarkably, when considered closer, the murder of Kitty Genovese does not offer much substance to prove the existence of the Bystander Effect exactly.

Namely, the number of onlookers was inflated when reported in the news, which already makes one question the veracity of the evidence. In addition, the murder of Kitty Genovese served as the impetus for creating the 911 emergency number (Caster 145). Therefore, the event described above has shaped not only the psychological analysis but also the state policies. Moreover, it turned out that only two observers behaved in the manner consistent with the concept of the Bystander Effect (Kassin 376). Nonetheless, future cases involving the specified phenomenon have proven that the Bystander effect exists and affects people’s behaviors to a large extent (Caster 146). Therefore, the murder of Kitty Genovese can be seen as the case that spurred the exploration of the problem of indifference toward a victim of a crime occurring in front of multiple observers.

News Story: The Bystander Effect, Confirmed

Being rooted in human conditioning, the Bystander Effect continues to affect the lives of people to this day. A recent event covered in the Wellesley News shows that people are still highly prone to refusing to respond when witnessing a crime. Specifically, the newspaper reported that on September 11, 2019, Khaseen Morris, a sixteen-year-old student, was stabbed outside a mall by five teenagers in front of 50 onlookers (Fuad). The observed case shows that the Bystander Effect can be attributed to two main factors, namely, the fear of being harmed in the process of intervening, as well as the phenomenon of the dispersion of responsibility. Therefore, to combat the


Despite the efforts to promote the culture of support and justice, the combined effect of the need for self-preservation and the fear of possible legal repercussions prevents people from intervening in a crime. Defined as the Bystander effect, the refusal to act in a way that could potentially save people’s lives when witnessing a crime is a major societal issue that represents a rather complex dilemma. On the one hand, it is reasonable to expect people to develop high social responsibility and contribute to crime prevention. On the other hand, given the presence of a threat to any individual that involves oneself into a situation that may possibly result in injuries or death, demanding that people should fight the Bystander Effect and become active in crime prevention also appears to be unreasonable. Therefore, it is crucial to promote the necessity of contacting the police in case of witnessing a crime, as well as increase the efficacy of the police’s response to the specified calls.

Works Cited

Caster, Emily. “Using Mental Illness as a Scapegoat for Mass Shootings: The Perils of Being a Bystander in a World of Misinformation – A Psychologist’s Perspective.” Violence and Gender, vol. 6, no. 3, 2019, pp. 145-146.

Fuad, Hajira. “An Avoidable Murder of a Student Caught on Tape: The Sickening Power of the Bystander Effect.” The Wellesley News, 2019, Web.

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Kassin, Saul M. “The Killing of Kitty Genovese: What Else Does This Case Tell Us?” Perspectives on Psychological Science, vol. 12, no. 3, 2017, pp. 374-381.

Levine, Mark, Richard Philpot, and Anastasiia G. Kovalenko. “Rethinking the Bystander Effect in Violence Reduction Training Programs.” Social Issues and Policy Review, vol. 14, no. 1, 2020, pp. 273-296.

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