50 years later, Kitty Genovese’s story is still discussed in many circles, from coffee shops to college ethics courses. When the 28-year-old bar manager was slain in New York City on March 13th, 1964, it was a random crime. Winston Moseley had simply been looking for someone to kill and Kitty wandered across his path at just the wrong time. The reason that Genovese’s murder is still a topic of debate is the way in which it occurred. Moseley stabbed her in the back before she could reach her Queens apartment complex. Then, 38 of her own neighbors did nothing while they watched for the half an hour it took her to die, and while Moseley traveled all the way back to his car, stabbed her numerous times, and raped her. No one called the police or attempted to help her, except for one concerned resident who managed to shout out at Moseley from the safety of his window.
To be sure, there were positive outcomes for future victims of crime of all sorts, the least of which was the development of the 911 calling system. In the state of California, as in many other states in the Union, there are now “Good Samaritan” laws in place that encourage bystanders to get involved during an emergency without fear of being sued (CA Health and Safety Code 1799.102). However, there is little evidence that these protective measures have caused a great change in the way that people behave, especially as the majority of citizens are reluctant to get involved, even when a person’s life may be on the line. Studies concerning the psychological stance ‘bystander apathy’ (otherwise known as the ‘bystander effect’) have, for example, produced mixed results. Moseley remains in prison to this day, at age 79.
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