Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police

Title: Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police: A Stark Reflection of Bystander Apathy


In the riveting article, “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police,” written by Martin Gansberg and published in The New York Times in 1964, a chilling tale of apathy and indifference unfolds. This thought-provoking account sheds light on a disturbing incident that took place in Queens, New York, where a young woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in the presence of numerous witnesses who failed to report the crime. The article serves as a haunting reminder of the bystander effect, raising important questions about human nature and society’s responsibility to intervene in times of crisis.


1. The Kitty Genovese Case:
On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman, was fatally attacked and stabbed multiple times near her apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. Shockingly, the incident took place over a span of 35 minutes, during which time the perpetrator returned to the scene and continued the assault. What is particularly distressing is that, despite the prolonged attack and the presence of numerous witnesses, no one intervened or called the police.

2. The Bystander Effect:
The Kitty Genovese case became the unfortunate epitome of the bystander effect, a psychological phenomenon in which individuals fail to intervene or seek help when they witness a crime or emergency situation. The more witnesses present, the more likely it is for bystanders to assume someone else will take action, leading to a diffused responsibility and inaction.

3. Factors Contributing to Bystander Apathy:
Several factors contribute to the bystander effect. First, the diffusion of responsibility, where individuals assume someone else will step in, leads to a diffusion of guilt and decreased likelihood of intervention. Second, the fear of personal harm or retaliation prevents individuals from getting involved. Additionally, social influence and conformity play a significant role, as people tend to follow the behavior of others, especially in ambiguous situations.

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4. The Role of Society:
The Kitty Genovese case sparked a national conversation about the responsibility of society to protect and help those in need. It raised crucial questions about the moral obligations of individuals and the role of community in fostering a sense of collective responsibility. The incident highlighted the need for increased awareness, education, and action to combat bystander apathy.


Q1. Did anyone eventually report the crime?
A1. Yes, eventually, after Kitty Genovese’s assailant fled the scene, one of the neighbors called the police. However, by the time help arrived, it was too late to save her life.

Q2. What were the consequences of the Kitty Genovese case?
A2. The Kitty Genovese case led to significant changes in the way society perceives and responds to emergencies. It sparked the development of the 911 emergency hotline and the implementation of Good Samaritan laws that protect those who intervene in emergency situations.

Q3. Has there been progress in combating the bystander effect since the incident?
A3. While awareness about the bystander effect has increased, it still remains a prevalent issue in society. Various organizations and initiatives aim to educate the public about bystander apathy and encourage individuals to take action in times of crisis.

Q4. What can we do to overcome the bystander effect?
A4. Recognizing the bystander effect is crucial. By assuming personal responsibility, raising awareness, and encouraging a culture of intervention, we can combat this phenomenon. Education about the bystander effect, self-defense training, and community outreach programs are also effective ways to empower individuals to step forward and help those in need.

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The chilling account of the Kitty Genovese case, as described in Martin Gansberg’s article, reminds us of the dangers of bystander apathy. It serves as a haunting reminder that our collective responsibility to protect one another should never be taken for granted. The incident continues to inspire conversations about the bystander effect, urging society to address and overcome this psychological phenomenon. By fostering a culture of intervention, we can ensure that tragedies like the one witnessed by the thirty-eight bystanders never happen again.