I learned about the murder of Kitty Genovese in two separate psychology classes, at two separate universities. It was studied as an example of the “bystander effect”, which is a phenomenon that occurs when witnesses do not offer help to a victim when there are other people present.

I was told by my professors that Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old unmarried woman who was attacked, raped, and brutally murdered on her way home from her shift as manager of a bar. I was told that numerous people witnessed the attack and her cries for help but didn’t do anything because they “assumed someone else would”. Nobody intervened until it was too late. 

What I was not told was that Kitty Genovese was a lesbian who lived more or less openly with her partner in the Upper West Side and managed a gay bar. 

Now… is it likely that people overheard Kitty’s cries for help and ignored them because they thought someone else would deal with it? Or, perhaps, did they ignore her because they knew she was a lesbian and just didn’t care?

Maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it was just a random attack. Maybe her neighbours didn’t know she was gay, or didn’t care.

But it’s a huge chunk of information to leave out about her in a supposedly scientific study of events, since her sexuality made her much more vulnerable to violent crimes than the average person. And it’s a dishonour to her memory.

RIP Kitty Genovese. Society may only remember you for how you died, but I will remember you for who who were.


this was one of the first lessons I had in psych too and we were never told about this either nor was it in any of the reading materials

I never knew this.

I also never knew this about Kitty Genovese, but I do know that, in fact, many of the dozen (not thirty-eight) people who witnessed some part of the attack (which took place after 3AM, on a chilly night in March when most people’s windows were closed) tried to help in some way.

One shouted out his window for the attacker to leave her alone, which did successfully scare the man off temporarily.

Another called the police but, seeing her still on her feet, said only that there had been a fight but the woman seemed to be okay.

And when Kitty Genovese was finally attacked in a vestibule where she couldn’t be seen from outside, Karl Ross, a neighbor, saw what was happening but was too frightened himself to go to her rescue–so he started calling other neighbors to ask what he should do. Eventually one of them told him to call the police, which he did, and the woman he called, Sophie Farrar, rushed out to help Kitty even though she didn’t know whether the attacker was gone.

Kitty Genovese died in the arms of a neighbor who tired to help and comfort her while they waited for the police and ambulance to arrive. Kitty was in fact still alive, although mortally wounded, when the ambulance reached the scene.

The man who saw the final stabbing? Who panicked and called other neighbors first instead of the police? The man who said, infamously, that he “didn’t want to get involved” because he was reluctant to turn to the police for help? He was thought to be gay himself. He was a friend of Kitty and Mary Ann’s. After being interviewed by the police he took a bottle of vodka to Mary Ann and sat with her, trying to comfort her.

So, no. I don’t think the evidence indicates that Kitty Genovese’s neighbors let her die because she was a lesbian, because Kitty Genovese’s neighbors tried to help.

See also: Debunking the Myth of Kitty Genovese (The New York Post)

A Call for Help (The New Yorker)

(Also, going by the content of the murderer’s confession, it was indeed a random attack.)

how on EARTH was this “scientifically” studied but the details gotten so wrong and the wrong as hell conclusion published and taught in schools?!?!?! where were those scientists observation skills?! on vacation?!

How to take facts and turn them into an urban legend that gets taught in schools: Make a bad made-for-t.v.-movie about it, watch it, believe everything the movie says, annnnnnnd go!  That’s how it gets taught as this supposed “scientific study.”  Someone got fucking lazy.

Spread the real deal, kids.

A book about this, “No One Helped”: Kitty Genovese, New York City, and the Myth of Urban Apathy, won the Lambda Literary Award for LGBT Nonfiction this year! if anyone wants to check it out try your local library!