Department of Recreation and Wellness

Bystander Intervention and Awareness - The Catherine "Kitty" Genovese Story

On March 13, 1964, around 3:00 AM, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was stabbed, raped, and murdered over a 35 minute period outside her apartment complex. It was later found that there were about 38 individuals within the apartment complex that either heard or saw parts of the attack and did nothing. 

Many of the individuals heard her screams and thought nothing of it, while others simply did not want to get involved in the situation. The police were contacted too late to be of any help to Catherine, and she was found already dead and violated by the time the police arrived. 

The murder was later apprehended and given the death sentence, but her story has been forever remembered as an incident when bystanders did nothing to help in a situation that obviously needed intervention.

While inconsistent newspaper reports at the time of the incident lead researchers to regard the story as more of a parable, it's impact sparked serious psychological research into diffusion of responsibility and the Bystander Effect (See: Definitions). The story serves as a dramatic example of a real psychological phenomena in which an individual's willingness to act is inversely related to the size of a group or crowd of bystanders.

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