THE DIFFUSION of responsibility theory was raised as early as 1964 after the Kitty Genovese case in New York, the United States. Since then, the phenomenon has been noticed in several other criminal cases.
In 1964, New Yorker Kitty Genovese was stabbed and raped over a 30-minute period in the hallway of her apartment building. Though reports vary greatly, it is believed that up to 38 people had witnessed parts of the attack, and yet nothing was done.
The tragedy prompted research into diffusion of responsibility and the “bystander effect”, leading to our current understanding on how humans react in such situations. The phenomenon is also referred to as “Genovese syndrome”.
The Steubenville rape case
In August 2012, two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, US, raped and sexually assaulted a drunk, unconscious teenage girl during a party. More than a dozen people at the party had taken photos and videos of the incident (including the assailants) and shared casino online them on social media; and yet during the six hours when the victim was being abused, no one made a police report. Both students have been convicted for the rape of a minor.
In a case that prompted much soul-searching in China, two-year-old Wang Yue was ran over by two vehicles on a narrow road in Foshan, Guangdong. CCTV footage captured the entire incident, showing at least 18 people walking by while Wang bled on the street. After seven minutes, a female rubbish scavenger stopped to help Wang, who was rushed to hospital. She succumbed to her injuries eight days later.
The Richmond High School gang rape
On the night of October 27, 2009, a 15-year-old female student was gang raped by a group of young males in a school courtyard with as many 20 witnesses believed to have been aware of the attack. A witness even described in court the exact details of the crime and yet no one called 911 for over two hours.
Tan Kim Chuan
Seven people were caught on CCTV walking by as 60-year-old Tan lay unconscious in a parking lot in Penang. A snatch theft had left her with a cracked skull, and it was more than six minutes before someone came to her aid. She died nine hours later in the hospital.
Diffusion of responsibility is also often applied to war crimes, with the Holocaust one of the common examples. Over six million lives were lost, while German citizens feigned ignorance and Nazi officers claimed they were simply following orders.