The Impact of Kitty Genovese’s Murder: An International Bystander Awareness Day Blog

Blog by Shamsher Chohan (Communities Inc’s Creative Director)

“Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!”

These are the words of Kitty Genovese, a 28 year old bar manager as she was attacked, in the early hours on the 13th March 1964 in Queens, New York, just meters from her apartment. 

Winston Moseley, stabbed, raped and murdered her and it was later claimed that 38 witnesses failed to help. 

This led to people asking the question ‘why didn’t others come to her aid?’ and  led to social psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané in 1968 to conduct a number of experiments where the participant is either alone or among a group of other people and they were faced with staged emergency situations. Researchers then measured how long it took the participants to intervene, if they intervene. These experiments have found that the presence of others inhibits helping, often by a large margin.

This work led to the creation of the terms ‘bystander’ and the ‘bystander effect’.

A Bystander: someone who is present at an incident but not involved in it
Bystander Effect:
where the presence of other people acts as a barrier to an individual helping

Kitty’s murder also led to other societal changes:

  1. 911 was introduced as a single point of calling for emergency help (the emergency number in the UK was introduced in 1937)
  2. Neighborhood Watch was established as a tool for community safety (it was established in the UK in 1982)
  3. The Good Samaritan Laws were introduced to ensure if those helping found themselves in court, the courts would have to bear in mind they were acting to help

Practical applications of addressing the bystander effect are now increasingly commonplace with emergency services based on intervening and helping. The education and health sector, too, are about helping, supporting and assisting when people need help.

Even though it is 60 years since the murder of Kitty Genovese, the bystander effect remains a barrier to some people helping as demonstrated in the case of Zaynab Hussein who after dropping her children at school was struck by a car driven by Paul Moore. He then did a U-turn and ran over her again. Other parents walked past her lying in the road, with it taking 20 minutes before anyone went to see how she was and call for help. This happened  20th September 2017 in Beaumont Leys Leicester. 

Here at Communities Inc, we wanted to bring a focus to the positive role a bystander can play and chose the date of Kitty’s murder to establish an International day of awareness and action. International Bystander Awareness Day (IBAD), now presents us with an opportunity to:

  1. Raise awareness of the positive role that bystanders can play
  2. Share the different ways that people can help others 
  3. Promote the benefits and importance of supporting others 

Want to mark IBAD? Ideas for action:

1. Organise a discussion group to explore:

  • What issues you could look at engaging bystanders to be more active
  • What help people facing these issues may need
  • What some barriers to intervening might be

2. Organise a viewing of The Witness as a local cinema, hall or theatre with some refreshments. You could even hold a discussion following the film

3. Attend bystander intervention training or even get training in for your staff, volunteers and stakeholders

4. Hold a breakfast meeting with key stakeholders and get some actors to ‘play out a scenario’ where someone is being harassed, bullied or picked on. See if anyone notices and use it as a basis for discussion as to why people don’t intervene and what people could have done.

5. Share our social media content to your networks and contacts using the hashtag #IBAD

Instagram: @communities_inc
X: @Communities_INC
Facebook: @Communities Inc
LinkedIn: @Communities Inc

6. Find out more about our bystander intervention work at www.communitiesinc.org.uk

We look forward to seeing your IBAD activities!