Police: Woman raped, witnesses do nothing

A surveillance camera caught onlookers who failed to call the police.


Tracy Clark-Flory
August 25, 2007 1:10AM (UTC)

Minnesota police report that a security camera caught a 26-year-old woman being beaten and raped for over an hour in the hallway of an apartment building. What's more, the security footage shows at least 10 neighbors peeking out of their apartments and venturing down the hallway to investigate the commotion -- but no one intervened. The police were finally called nearly 90 minutes into the attack, reports the Star Tribune. (One man claims to have called the police when the alleged victim knocked on his door, asking for help; they have no record of his call.) When police arrived, they found Rage Ibrahim, 26, lying in the hallway with the alleged victim. By then the woman was unconscious and had scratches on her face and blood on her thigh.

Of course, this instantly calls to mind the famous case of Kitty Genovese, a woman who was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in 1964 in Queens, N.Y. Several neighbors heard her screams for help or witnessed parts of the attack, but few called the police and no one intervened. The New York Times wrote about the case and famously ran with the headline: "Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn't Call the Police." That turned out not to be so accurate: Police reported that only about a dozen neighbors heard her cries -- some didn't recognize them as cries for help -- and no one witnessed the attack in its entirety. Many thought they were simply overhearing a drunken lovers' quarrel. Still, the incident is often used as evidence of the "bystander effect" -- the idea that people are less likely to intervene in an attack if there are other witnesses present who are also capable of intervening.

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On the face of it, there are plenty of similarities between the two cases. For instance, when someone finally did call the police in this most recent case, they reported "drunken behavior" in the hallway -- not rape. Part of me would like to believe that the witnesses didn't fully grasp what was going on. But the police seem pretty certain that's not the case. The video "shows one person looking out of her door probably three times," said police spokesman Tom Walsh. "It shows another person walking up, observing what's going on, then turning and putting up the hood of his sweatshirt."

I'm curious what Broadsheet readers think. Does this illuminate a dark corner of human psychology known as the "bystander effect," or is there some other, more palatable explanation? (Or maybe the "bystander effect" is the more palatable explanation.)


Tracy Clark-Flory

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