Turning a Blind Eye to Alarming Behaviour
There has been a lot of recent press about a major Australian wealth business charging clients for financial advice they never received. Many people knew about this. This situation is a reminder of the case from 1964 when the term “bystander effect” was first coined.
Turning a Blind Eye
The recent press about a major Australian wealth business charging clients for financial advice they never received, with full awareness of a number of people in the business, has shocked many of us. In fact, many people in the business were aware of this issue for several years and had even informed those in senior leadership positions. However there appeared to be no action. The customer’s interests were clearly not looked after.
Why didn’t they do anything about it?
This situation is a stark reminder of the classic Kitty Genovese case from 1964 when the term “bystander effect” was first coined.
Kitty Genovese case
On March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered outside her New York apartment. The attack was reported to have lasted for over 30 minutes when she was stabbed at least 14 times. It was also reported that despite Genovese’s screams for help, not one of the 38 residents who lived in the nearby apartment building came to her aid. The case was highly publicised and generated significant public interest, leading to extensive research on the “bystander effect”.
A few witnesses claimed that they had called the police, but that their calls weren’t given priority. Others claimed to have called, but did not report the severity of the crime. Others stated simply that they thought of calling the police, but assumed someone else would instead. One neighbour simply said he didn’t want to get involved.
The primary issue which arose from this case concerned the inaction of the neighbours who chose to look the other way during this brutal murder.
“The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people,
but because of the silence of good people.”
Looking the other way
While there are some questions about the specific facts of the Kitty Genovese case, it is generally accepted that the “bystander effect” does exist. Unfortunately, this appears to be alive and well in the Australian financial services industry today.
It takes a brave person to do what others aren’t willing to do, in circumstances which go against the conventional flow or culture of a business. It can only be hoped that the current Royal Commission involving the Financial Services Industry leads to more people being brave and following their conscience by doing the right thing without fear or favour, not just “standing around” following convention or “the party line”.
Let’s hope we have all learnt from the Kitty Genovese case.
Kassin, S. M. (2017). The killing of Kitty Genovese: what else does this case tell us?. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(3), 374-381. doi: 10.1177/1745691616679465