In March 1964, there was a heinous murder in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. Back then, there was no 911 emergency number, there were no good Samaritan laws and, despite her cries, there was no one coming to help Catherine Genovese.
Kitty, as she was known, was a bar manager on her way home from work in the early morning hours. According to news reports at the time, she was attacked not once but three times over the course of a half-hour. What’s more: There were apparently 38 witnesses.
Ten years ago, Genovese’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Ann Zielonko, reflected on the crime in an interview with Sound Portraits Productions:
“I still have a lot of anger toward people because they could have saved her life, I mean, all the steps along the way when he attacked her three times. And then he sexually assaulted her, too, when she was dying. I mean, you look out the window and you see this happening and you don’t help. That’s — how do you live with yourself knowing you didn’t do anything?”
For your Friday viewing pleasure, we present The Detached Americans a 1964 TV documentary on the Kitty Genovese case (see previous AHP posts on Genovese here). In 1964 Genovese was murdered and it was widely reported that numerous witnesses to the murder – as many as 38 – failed to intervene. The case is often cited as the basis for what is known as the bystander effect in social psychology, whereby individuals fail to aid in emergency situations when others are present. This failure to help people in need is often attributed to a diffusion of responsibility, as it is assumed that others present will offer assistance. Happy viewing!
The September 2012 issue of gradPSYCH magazine, published by the American Psychological Association, features an article entitled Psychology’s Tall Tales. The article describes two of the most persistent myths in psychology; those of Phineas Gage and Kitty Genovese (right). The true stories of what happened to Gage and Genovese have been discussed on AHP previously (here and here). In short, the personality changes experienced by Gage following his accident were not as severe as generally reported and during Genovese’s attack bystanders did in fact intervene in various ways.
In addition to recounting the details of these often perpetuated myths, the gradPSYCH article also point to an interesting audio source on the Genovese case. An interview with Genovese’s girlfriend at the time of her murder, Mary Ann Zielonko, can be heard on the Sound Portraits website. Interestingly, the interview begins by retelling the myth of Genovese’s attack. Click here to listen the full audio of that interview.
The Genovese case is traditionally presented as the failure 38 neighbours to act while a young woman was murdered in New York City. It has attained mythic proportions in social psychology as an exemplar of the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility. The veracity of the original report of Kitty Genovese case, in particular the inaction of her neighbours during her murder, was previously questioned in a 2007 American Psychologistarticle.
The Open Culture post on Kitty Genovese was prompted a recent news story about a teenager who was severely beaten in a Baltimore McDonald’s while employees not only failed to intervene, but videotaped the incidence. The post also points to a NPR interview with Joseph De May on the Genovese case, which may be of interest to AHP readers. (The interview is available as both an audio clip and a transcript.)
AHP‘s previous posts on Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect can be found here, here, here, and here.