This is Why 9-1-1 Exists.

Have you ever wondered how the 9-1-1 emergency service system came about?

Kitty Genovese is how.


Who was Kitty Genovese?

Simply put, Kitty Genovese (as known by history) was another victim of misogyny and male violence. She was murdered because the killer just wanted “to kill a woman” as they are “easier and don’t fight back.” When I read his motive I can’t say I was surprised, but I was definitely pissed off.

Although, grievances aside, who was Kitty Genovese as a person? From what I can gather, she was a pretty frickin’ awesome woman for her time.

Born in 1935, Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese lived with her five other siblings and her parents. When she was 18, her family moved out of New York after her mother witnessed a murder. Genovese decided to stay behind and live with her grandparents as she was preparing for her wedding, which was quickly annulled soon after.

Genovese continued to live in New York, getting her own apartment and hopping between a multitude of jobs before she finally settled into a bar manager position. It was noted that Kitty Genovese was a reliable employee, frequently working double shifts at Ev’s 11th Hour in Hollis. As a result of her hard-work, Kitty had an income of $750 a month (about $6,500 in 2018), which I must say is pretty damn good for a woman in the 1950s. From then on out Genovese was a self-proclaimed independent woman, stating that “no man could support me, because I make more than a man.” She continued to work,, hoping to eventually afford her own Italian restaurant.

In 1963 Genovese met Mary Ann Zielonko, her future girlfriend, at an underground lesbian bar. Yeah, that’s right. She was an independent lesbian woman in the 1960s. Soon after they met, Genovese and Zeilonko moved in together. After her murder, the newspapers initially kept her lesbianism a secret, calling Zeilonko a “friend” and later labeling her as a suspect.


The Murder of Kitty Genovese

March 13th, 1964 was not a normal day.  Before the 9-1-1 emergency call system existed there was no official emergency number for people to call. Originally, people had to dial 0 to get in touch with their local police station, but after the murder of Kitty Genovese, everything had changed.

In the late hours of the night, Kitty Genovese left her workplace. She was going home to her girlfriend Zielonko, intending to celebrate their one year anniversary.

A block away from her apartment, Kitty was stalked by Winston Moseley, who approached her with a hunting knife. She ran towards her building, but he chased and stabbed her. Apparently, at this time, witnesses had already seen and heard her cries for help. One witness had even contacted police, but the call wasn’t considered a priority, so they did nothing.

The killer, after being scared off by a neighbour, fled to his car. After hearing no sirens and gathering up the courage he returned to finish her off, stabbing her, raping her, and stealing $49 from her wallet. He then returned home to his wife and three children.

The police finally arrived 30 minutes after the murder had initially begun. Kitty Genovese died on the way to the hospital, and Winston Moseley eventually died in prison.


The Bystander Effect, 9-1-1, and the Good Samaritan Laws

Although Kitty Genovese died as a result of police incompetence and male violence, she did not die in vain.


In 1968, four years after her murder, Genovese became the prime example of a social psychological phenomenon called The Bystander Effect, which has since become a staple cognitive model taught in psychology classrooms.

The Bystander Effect, coined by Latané and Darley, suggests the idea that a bystander’s ability to help is influenced by two things; the diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance. In a nutshell, diffusion of responsibility is the assumption that other people will take responsibility for something, and pluralistic ignorance as a false impression of how other people are thinking, feeling, or responding. Both phenomenon have been used to explain the events of Kitty Genovese’s murder.

Piliavin’s Cost-Reward Matrix – which suggests a bystander’s personal cost influences their actions – has also been used to explain Genovese’s death.


As well as becoming famous in Psychology, Genovese’s death brought about real-world change. Kitty Genovese became the driving force for a national emergency number, and nearly four years after her death the 9-1-1 system was put into place, with the first call made on February 16th, 1968. Good Samaritan laws were also adopted nationwide to protect citizens who assist those in danger.


Blog posts that inspired me:

Walk Memory Lane’s Kitty Genovese

Another Angry Woman’s No cops at Pride: remembering Alan Turing and Kitty Genovese

Armed Robbery’s This day in crime history: march 13, 1964

Horror History’s The murder of Kitty Genovese

The Deadly Digest’s Kitty Genovese: the Unluckiest Friday the 13th

The Up Devo’s Bystander Syndrome

You Will Bear Witness’ How To Overcome The “Bystander Effect”

Random’s by a Random Writer’s Poem: Our Silence…

Because I Said So The Bystander Effect


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