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The “KITTY GENOVESE ‘BYSTANDER EFFECT’” Still Applies, 55 Years hence

Kitty Genovese was murdered 55 years ago on March 13, 1964 in Kew Gardens, NY. Reportedly “38 people watched” her attack and no one called the cops. The story became the talk of the town, nation and world. Although the number of ear-or-eye witnesses was later refuted, the fact remained that many more people bore some witness to the attack than those who came to the victim’s aid, or, minimally, called the cops. Many witnesses stated, “I didn’t want to get involved.”

The Genovese murder launched the 911 system and neighborhood watch programs. It birthed the term, The “Kitty Genovese syndrome,” or the “bystander effect.” Specifically, if others are around and bearing the same witness to an event, each is less likely to call the cops or intervene. Many people do nothing and let whatever is happening happen. The “Genovese ‘bystander effect'” is taught around the world in law schools and psychology courses.

In March 2019, the NY Daily News ran a front page lead article with a two-page spread about Genovese (and just released letters from her killer, Winston Moseley). Link below. The Saturday Evening Post also ran an article; and on May 6, 2019, Jack Ford—former prosecutor, former TODAY Show anchor and now, anchor at NY’s MetroFocus—aired a segment about Genovese, that notorious case and the exclusive letters. The exclusive letters address the psyche of that serial killer, and the reported apathy of a community.

But across modern society—55 years hence—the “Genovese ‘Bystander Effect’” still occurs.

In 2017 at Penn State University, a young Beta Theta Pi fraternity pledge, Timothy Piazza, died after a hazing incident. Over twenty “big brothers” watched Piazza drink to excess and become unconscious, but no one called for help for twelve hours.  The students stood by, even moved Piazza to a different location, but didn’t call 911, or anyone, to help.

On March 1, 2019, the San Francisco Giants’ CEO, Larry Baer, was in a “public argument” with his wife that became physical, as he aggressively reached for a phone in her hand. His actions caused her to fall off the chair onto the ground as she repeatedly screamed “Oh my God. Help!” Then again, “Oh my God. Oh my God.” The altercation was caught on video that was given to TMZ.

Per the TMZ website, multiple people witnessed the argument and altercation, and that witnesses said “police were not called to the scene.” Even the person who shot the footage did not call police, but reportedly did attempt to break up the altercation in-between recording clips.

We’ve seen athletes kick and punch their girlfriends, but their posses didn’t call to help the women; they stood, watched and let the physical abuse continue.

Today we have “digital bystanders”: People watch the violence and diligently record on their mobile devices instead of using their phones to call police. They watch what’s happening, but do nothing to stop it.

Many could argue the “Kitty Genovese ‘bystander effect'” is also in full force with legislators on Capitol Hill. Per some (many) reports, and legal professionals, legislators have turned their heads and ignore what they see and hear, and won’t take any action. But I don’t want this post to be political, so I’ll leave that alone in this venue.

Has society learned anything in the fifty-five years since Kitty’s death? The Genovese murder occurred in two phases over a near thirty-five minute period. Her murderer, Winston Moseley, stabbed her, but ran off when a few people yelled at him. He returned to her stabbed body and finished the job. Moseley later stated he “knew nobody would do anything.”

In this 55th anniversary year of Kitty Genovese’s murder, are we, as a society, going to let the musings of Kitty’s murderer be our code of conduct, whether witnessing an obviously unconscious lad, an aggressive husband in a physical altercation with his wife; or refusing to recognize crimes when committed before our very eyes? Are even legislators going to turn a blind eye, and a deaf ear, to the cries of an endangered nation and citizenry—whether it’s about healthcare, taxes, infrastructure, or other matters of national concern and safety?

When observing a crime, does anyone hear; and, more importantly, will they act? Will you?

Saturday Evening Post 3/15/2019:

Piazza case: .

Kitty Genovese photo: Public domain

Copyright © 2019 Dr. Melody T. McCloud. All rights reserved. Please share this post on your social network pages, with author credit and link to this page. Bitly:  Tw: @DrMelodyMcCloud

The “KITTY GENOVESE ‘BYSTANDER EFFECT’” Still Applies, 55 Years hence

Melody T. McCloud, MD

Dr. Melody T. McCloud is a trailblazing obstetrician/gynecologist, author, public speaker and media contributor. She has received many awards including the "Health-Care Heroes ‘Physician’ Award” per the Atlanta Business Chronicle, and is also recognized as one of the “25 Most Influential Doctors in Atlanta." Dr. McCloud has been interviewed on CNN, Headline News, network affiliates, TBN, the Tom Joyner Morning Show; and her writings or comments have been printed in USA Today, Parade, Essence, Family Circle, Health, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and more. She hosts a health blog at Psychology Today and, upon invitation, speaks nationwide to many organizations. She is a member of the Atlanta Press Club and many leadership organizations.

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APA Reference
McCloud, M. (2019). The “KITTY GENOVESE ‘BYSTANDER EFFECT’” Still Applies, 55 Years hence. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Jul 2019
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