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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Genovese Syndrome: When All of Us Just Looks On

The case of Catherine Susan Genovese would leave an indelible and ugly stain forever in the mingling of the studies of psychology, sociology and forensics. Its impact reaches into the collective of who we are called humanity.
On the early morning of March 13, 1964, "Kitty" Genovese was arriving home to her apartment at 82-70 Austin Street in the Kew Gardens area of Queens, New York City at 3:15 am. Finishing her shift as a bar manager and all that that entails at Ev's 11th Hour Sports Bar, she was probably tired and sleepy after a long day and was glad to be home. She parked her car at the Long Island Railroad Parking lot, a mere 30 meters (100 feet) from her doorstep. As she was alighting from her vehicle, a man was coming close to her. Sensing something dangerously wrong, she instinctively ran to her home which was so close, yet the much larger figure overtook her 5'1" and 105 pound frame. Winston Moseley, a business machine operator, stabbed her twice in the back. She cried: "Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!" pleading to her neighbors in the proximity who were within earshot of what was happening. Someone was heard to have shouted "Leave that girl alone!" which made Moseley back-off and leave. Kitty struggled sobbing, staggering and bleeding, trying to get to her apartment building door. Somehow everybody was hoping and praying that it was all over, which made residents close their windows and turn-0ff their lights. This was not to be.

Moseley returned several minutes later. He carefully searched the perimeter of the area, as if looking for his previous injured prey. He found her lying barely conscious in a hallway at the back of the building. He mercilessly stabbed her several times again. She cried once more to the emptiness: "I'm dying! I'm dying!" only to fall on ears that were uncaring, afraid or indifferent to her plight. As she lay dying, Moseley committed his last beastly act: he cut-off her bra and underwear and proceeded to rape her then and there. He even stole about $49 from her wallet and left her dying in the hallway.
Help arrived only when somebody finally called the police and medics. She died in the ambulance as she was being rushed to the hospital. She was 29 years old.

The crime scene photo of the first and second stabbing attacks on Kitty Genovese
The stabbing and sexual assault of Kitty Genovese lasted half an hour (32 minutes) and was witnessed by handful of individuals, a report even mentioning up to 38 people who witnessed the crime.
Here's a long and more detailed account. The actual description of the crime is on Chapter/page 3 -

The nation’s sensibilities were rocked. The cold hard questions of “Why didn’t someone call for help?” or “Didn’t anybody do something?” rang thru the media rallying people to question what was going on in our society. Was this outrageous level of apathy pervading our culture today?
Psychologists tried to tackle what was supposed to have occurred and has since integrated Kitty Geovese's case as a basic study reference for all students taking up the course. It prompted research into the so-called Bystander Effect of which the crime was a textbook case. The surprising thing about this phenomenon is that unlike a single good Samaritan who would likely help or intervene during such events, when it comes to larger numbers of bystanders/onlookers, they were less likely to help or intervene for a victim. Some of the reasons for such was that one was "trapped" into not acting based on the perception that another will know what to do or act appropriately---unable to see the fact that no one is actually doing anything. Another is that since others weren't helping, they won't either. It's as if bystanders or onlookers were assured more into not doing anything because of their numbers.

This inaction is related to another social phenomenon called diffusion of responsibility, in which no one is identified with the burden of responsibility. Thus, all become passive and implicitly or tacitly pass the burden to another rather than own-up to being answerable to the consequence/s. In effect it became somebody else's problem.
See the links below for further info -

To us here locally though, it begs the question: could culture have an influence in this? What if the setting had been here in the Philippines? As part of our orientation towards family, sense of community and neighborly relations (i.e. - bayanihan spirit) and religious sentiments would we have acted differently?

This tragic case serves to hold up a mirror for us to view ourselves and see how ugly, uncaring and ignoble our natures can sometimes be.

As Edmund Burke once said: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".

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