Fr. Frank Pavone,
Priests for Life
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It was 3:20am on the morning of
March 13, 1964. Kitty Genovese, who managed a nearby bar, was just getting home
from work when she was attacked while walking toward her apartment building in
Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. She screamed that she had been stabbed. Lights of
nearby apartments went on, windows opened, the attacker disappeared, but nobody
came to help.
Then the attacker returned, found
his victim, and stabbed her again. She screamed, but nobody helped her or even
called the police.
The attacker came back a third
time. It was now a half-hour later. He attacked and stabbed Kitty Genovese yet
again, this time fatally. At that point the police received their first call,
and were there in two minutes – but they could not save her life.
In the days and weeks following
this murder, detectives and reporters became furious as they discovered that no
less than thirty-eight people witnessed this assault, but did nothing. It was an
astonishing failure of human compassion, a stunning display of cowardice and
apathy. In fact, it gave rise to debates among academics and research among
psychologists about what came to be known as the “Genovese Syndrome.”
The witnesses were asked why they
didn’t help. Many did not want to talk. Some thought for sure that someone else
was closer to the victim and would do something. The single individual who did
call the police – a half hour after the attacks began – only did so after much
deliberation, and after having phoned a friend in Nassau County for advice, and
then walked across the roof of the building to the apartment of an elderly woman
in order to make the call. “I didn’t want to get involved,” this man told the
police. Had the call come sooner, the police said, Kitty’s life could have been
One of the experiments regarding
the Genovese Syndrome began with a man sitting in a room alone. Not knowing the
experiment had already begun, he saw smoke pouring into the room from under the
door of the next room. He immediately got up and alerted others that there was a
problem. Later, three people were placed in that same room, and smoke began
pouring in. They coughed and fanned the smoke away from their faces, but nobody
got up or said anything.
The experiment showed that we
don’t just look at the evidence of an emergency. We look at the reactions of
others. If they don’t get excited, we reinterpret the data and conclude that
things aren’t as bad as they seem. The thirty-eight who witnessed Kitty’s murder
reinforced each other in their non-response.
So it is with abortion.
Individually, we see that it is an emergency crying out for a massive response.
Smoke is pouring in; victims are screaming. Yet we don’t see the massive
response of others, and so responding becomes harder for us.
And like one of those
thirty-eight witnesses, when asked why they did not get involved, so many simply
say, “I don’t know.”