In 1964, the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese shocked Americans from coast to coast. While a man attacked, raped, and killed this young woman for over half an hour, 38 men and women witnessed the assault and did nothing to help.
The shock and confusion surrounding this single event captured the country’s attention and launched a substantial debate into how caring people could watch such an attack, and yet do nothing. This one event launched new research and programs about the “bystander effect."
This one event also marked the beginning of an approach by programs and researchers to move bystanders to act more responsibly. People in a bystander role often describe feeling scared, alone, and afraid to say or do something in the face of violence. They say that they fear making someone angry, possibly misunderstanding the situation, or even triggering further violence.
Yet over the years, the bystander approach has recognized that saying or doing something is not necessarily a single event by a single hero. In fact, in many situations, there are a variety of opportunities, and numerous people who can choose to intervene.