Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

By Robert P. Abelson; Kurt P. Frey et al. | Go to book overview

19
Who, Me?: The Failure
of Bystanders
to Intervene
in Emergencies

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. ”

—Blanche Dubois, in American playwright Tennessee Williams'
(1911–1982) A Streetcar Named Desire


BACKGROUND

This chapter's study is grounded in the tragic story of Kitty Genovese. The Mew York Times (March 27, 1964) reported it this way:

For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

During this fatal ordeal, Kitty Genovese screamed numerous pleas, including “Oh, my God! He stabbed me! Please help me!” One onlooker started to call the police, but his wife stopped him: “Don't, thirty people have probably called by now. ” Another neighbor, after calling a friend in another county for advice, went to the top of his building, across several rooftops, and down into another building, where he asked an elderly woman to call the police. The police later found him in his apartment, guilt-ridden and drunk (Rosenthal, 1964).

-222-

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