Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I Always Wondered What I Would Do

The Genovese Syndrome - or "Bystander Effect." 

I vividly remember hearing a story told by my sociology professor in college about the assault of a young woman (Kitty Genovese). The event was witnessed by a large number of people in New York City, yet not one of them made a move to intervene or call the police.  I was appalled.

Secretly, though, I also worried. In a similar situation would I be like those people, or would I have the guts and morality to do what was right?''


cell phone, 911, reported an attack

Put to the test.

A few months ago, I was put to the test. My husband and I had flown many miles from home
 to watch our daughter swim in her college championship swim meet.  On the last night of the meet, a team dinner was held at a restaurant. We found a parking lot several blocks away.


He punched her!

My husband got out of the rental car and walked over to the ticket machine.  While he was buying the parking ticket, I glanced out the back window of the car just as a man walked across the street to a woman. He grabbed her, drew back his fist, and punched her! She broke free, and started to hurry away holding her purse tight against her chest. He following her.

I am ashamed to say, for a micro split-second I wondered, “Is this something I want us to get involved in? I could just pretend I didn’t see it.” I could never have lived with myself had that been my choice. Fortunately, I was instantly ashamed of that thought and squelched it. I realized that I had to act, but wasn't quite sure what to do!

I was opening the car door to run out and help her, when I realized that probably wasn't smart or safe. Instead, I starting honking the car horn repeatedly, hoping it would scare the man off and draw the attention of any bystanders. It was a nice thought, but no one was nearby but us.  The horn got my husband’s attention, and I waved frantically for him to come back to the car.  Once he ran over I explained what I saw, and suggested we drive towards the street.  He started the car while telling me to call 911.  (Why didn't I think of that?!) When we pulled out to where we could see the man and woman, it looked like they had separated and she had gotten away.


Conversation with 911.

The 911 operator quickly answered the phone.  As we were reporting the incident, we had to pull off the road and run on foot up the sidewalk to where we could see the street names.  As we did, we noticed that the man had circled back and was with the woman again, further down the street.  Just as we saw them once more, he hustled her into an apartment building.  My husband and I both got the impression that they knew each other, on some level. We told the police all the information we had,  and they said a patrol car would be there soon to check the situation out.

With nothing more left that we could do, we re-parked our car in the parking lot, and retrieved my husband’s credit card from the ticket machine!  We arrived at the team dinner very late, and it took me a while to settle in and enjoy the event.


I still worry for her.

I kept thinking of that poor woman and wondering if she was safe. At least my conscience was clear; we really had done all that we could to help her. But, I still worried, and hoped she was okay.


Have you ever witnessed a crime or called 911?


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16 comments :

  1. Good for you for being willing to help! I just called 911 last night to report an accident I saw and the call was answered by a machine that said it was 911 and do not hang up or my hold time would be longer. Then I had to listen to the same message in Spanish and then the ring tones for the hearing impaired. Then wait a little longer before someone picked up. I was so surprised. I always thought they would answer 911 right away. This was in a city so I'm sure they get a lot of calls, but I seemed too long to wait if there was a medical emergency or you were trying to escape from a crime.

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    1. That seems much too long! In a medical emergency, every second can count. Good for you though, for calling to report the accident.

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  2. I'm with you, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something.
    Unfortunately, where I live 911 spends more time giving the caller a hard time and often doesn't send anyone out because you didn't follow their rules. I didn't know there were rules for asking for help . . .

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    1. It sounds like 911 needs to employ better or at least a greater number of operators where you live!

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  3. Wow! Good for you! I witnessed something similar in the car in front of us at a stop light. It haunts me to this day.
    I was in my car, waiting in traffic at a red light with my fifteen-month old baby in the car seat and my aged mother beside me. The white van in front of us suddenly put on his four-way flashers and the driver, a man in a white shirt and tie started beating on the well-dressed woman in the passenger's seat with a closed fist. Knocked her to the floor and kept on punching. I started screaming to my mom. "What should we do?! What should we do?!" Two women alone with a baby. It was before the age of cell phones. I started honking the horn. Blasting away. The man finally got back into his seat, jammed the van into gear and drove through the red light. I never even got a license number. I think of it often. What I should have done. That poor, poor woman . . .

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    1. There was really nothing else you could have done Diane. But the fact that you remember and still worry about that woman speaks volumes about your character. Hopefully by the time he got back in the driver’s seat his tirade was over - and she got out when they next stopped, walked away and never looked back.

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  4. well done! it would have been really easy to turn and look the other way but you stepped up and that is all anyone can do. I hope the woman finds better company in the future.

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    1. I hope so too Leanne. At first I thought it was a robbery, but he clearly had more on his mind than her purse.

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  5. Oh how sad for that poor woman. I am proud you didn't ignore it, that was a hard decision! I haven't had anything like this happen yet, but I tend to be a fighter at heart with kind of a strong will. I just don't think I could stand and ignore it. Hopefully I never have to be tested though.

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    1. From what I know of you Jennifer, I have no doubt that you would pass the test!

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  6. Wow - what a story Susan! I've never had a situation like this, but I hope I would handle it as well as you did!

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    1. I am sure you would Lana. The Genovese syndrome is interesting - the more people around, the less an individual is likely to act. It is theorized that this is not so much from lack of interest but from confusion. Had the street been full of people, I hope I still would have taken the same steps.

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  7. I can't say I've ever witnessed something like that and I hope I never do. Good for you to take action.

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    1. I really hope I never do again either Delores!

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  8. I never could understand people that could just stand by and not do anything. I see stuff and that drives me crazy and I feel like they are just as guilty as the perpetrators. What you did was perfect because you never know which way those things will turn. My brother worked in a gas station in his late teens and a man was beating a woman in the parking lot he pulled the guy off of her and the woman started attacking my brother! Over the years and traveling like we do we've seen some pretty weird things. I've always intervened when I could. You did a great job Susan and I'm so glad your credit card was still there when you got back!

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    1. Wow - that is quite a story about your brother Rena! I have no doubt that you would come to anyone's rescue if they were in need. And yes ... we were glad the credit card was still there too!

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