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Kitty  Genovese: A true account of a public murder and its private consequences

by Catherine Pelonero

I guess the big question after reading this book (and a lot of the reviews) is how many people needed to witness or hear Kitty Genovese being stabbed and then raped (over a 38 minute period) without contacting police for us to feel better about what happened. 38? 20? 15? How about 5?

Despite the claims of “revisionists” who are attempting to debunk the “bystander effect” theory resulting from this case, the fact remains Moseley had time to take a break during his attack so he could move his car (which was under a street light) and change his headgear to better hide his face from the people he knew were watching. This done, he was free to track a bleeding and gravely injured Kitty to where she was hiding in an apartment building lobby, where he raped her after stabbing her in the throat.

The whole episode is a disgrace and the neighbourhood deserves the condemnation they received. The killer himself, Winston Moseley, commented during his trial that he knew the man who told him to, “Leave that woman alone” would go back to bed and do nothing. That’s why he came back to finish the poor girl off. He knew no one would come to her aid or call the police. He had all the time in the world.

I’ve read the “revisionist” accounts of the Genovese murder. This book does not fall into the “revisionist” camp. I don’t understand why so many reviewers think it does. Despite the hemming and hawing of historical apologists, the fact remains Kitty may have survived if Moseley hadn’t been able to have a second crack at her. The excuse given by revisionists – that many witnesses thought they were seeing a “domestic dispute” is risible, given many witnesses later admitted seeing Moseley holding a knife.

This book was a well researched account of the crime. It left me feeling enraged and full of contempt for a society that accepts violence against women – because ultimately the devaluing of female lives is what created the “bystander effect”.

From the archives

Madonna's life in lines

Neanderthal Silhouette Neanderthal Silhouette (Photo credit: erix!)

Before any teaching graduate is let loose on a class of unsuspecting teenagers, the following mantra should be tattooed on their foreheads, “Preview all visual material before showing it to the students. This includes films, recordings of sporting events ( streakers) and documentaries. Ignore it at your peril.” Fortunately most teachers have large, alien foreheads.

The laws as they relate to Australian schools are clear. Any audio visual material above a General (G) rating cannot be shown to students without a permission note from parents. Is it always safe to trust the ratings system? Oh no, no, no as the lady said. Hysteria, tears, pyschological trauma and a tsunami of complaints from hypocritcal parents (who let their kids watch all sorts of crap at home) awaits the teacher who trusts the G-rating.

As a first year teacher in a remote country school, I was eager…

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How do drivers avoid making dangerous mistakes when driving on a different side of the road?

Like many former British colonies, Australians drive on the left.  Tourists visiting Australia from countries where motorists drive on the right often fail to anticipate the challenges of driving on a different side of the road in an unfamiliar city.

This morning I was saddened to learn of another tragic death on Australian roads. A French tourist is facing charges because she killed a teenage driver in a head on collision after becoming confused and crossing the centre line. Last year an American man received a two – year jail sentence when he killed his wife in a similar incident. Both accidents happened at night suggesting reduced visibility (and fatigue) could have been contributing factors.

A few years ago I was t-boned at an intersection after an American teenager in a ute (utility) slammed into the side of my Hyundai Getz after he turned right on a red arrow.

A right turn in Australia is the equivalent of a left turn in countries where drivers drive on the right. Any turn that involves crossing an intersection in front of oncoming traffic is inherently risky. Collisions occur because drivers pull into the intersection without checking if the way is clear or they misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic.

My  collision happened at night (2am) near the city center at a four – way intersection for two dual carriageways. The roads are marked with dedicated right turn lanes and each of these lanes has a turn signal (red or green arrow). Right turning drivers must wait in the correct lane for the green arrow before they can turn across oncoming traffic safely.

I entered the intersection on a green light not expecting another car to make a right turn in front of me. Seeing the utility seconds before I cleared the intersection was terrifying. I grabbed the wheel, slammed on the brakes and turned my face away from the side window as the other car hit me on the driver’s side. The teenager didn’t see my car until he smashed into it.

I sat in my car covered in broken glass as the uninjured kid stumbled from his vehicle and abused me for going through a red light. His friends wisely decided to stay in the ute. The front of my Hyundai Getz was gone and I could smell burning rubber and petrol.

A tattooed, beefy man and his equally intimidating son stormed out of their car. They had been waiting behind the other driver at the intersection. The older man told the teen he had turned against a red arrow and to shut the fuck up. So he did.

The witnesses helped me out the car and waited with me until the ambulance arrived. I felt light headed and had to lie on the curb but expected to get a taxi home after the ambulance  driver checked me out.

Hours later, when the doctor finally let me use the toilet in the emergency ward I was shocked to look in the mirror and see my blonde hair, face and the front of my dress caked in dried blood. Suddenly I knew why I was scaring all the drunks and meth users as they lurched past my stretcher.

After seeing myself in the mirror and fending off attempts by the nurse to cut my expensively bleached hair, I felt a bit miffed with the other driver. He must have seen all the blood (head wounds bleed a lot) yet he still decided to yell at me.

I spent two days in hospital with internal bruising, concussion and busted knees. I also needed a few stiches in my scalp. Someone arranged for a psychologist to counsel me about the accident. He arrived in time to overhear me hassling the nurses to change the name above my bed to Miss Valentine (not Mrs.) because the cute A&E doctor was due to make his rounds and I wanted him to know I was single. The psychologist decided I was fine, if somewhat deluded.

For months after the accident the other driver mystified the insurance assessors (on both sides) by insisting he had a green signal and therefore I must have caused the accident by going through a red light. I don’t know why he thought this. We were on the same road driving in opposite directions. He was in the right turn lane whereas I was going straight. Being in the right turn lane meant he had his own traffic signals – a red or green arrow. Even if he had believed he could make a legal right turn on a green signal (an American yield on green) he should have given way to oncoming traffic. If he had done this, he may have violated a traffic rule (turning against a red arrow) but we wouldn’t have crashed.

I wouldn’t have given any thought to how the other driver came close to killing me if he hadn’t been so adamant I was at fault, which held up my various insurance claims. Even now, years after the event, I’m sure he has no idea how his driving caused the accident. It’s a bit of a worry.

After driving in Houston, Texas for the past eight weeks, I can think of three reasons the collision may have occurred.

First, as he approached the intersection and looked to the right the driver’s brain may have tricked him into thinking he was back in the US, doing an “American” right turn  and not crossing the path of oncoming traffic. He may not have made the mistake if he had been driving during the day, when visibility is better. Given his protestations after the accident, it’s possible to assume he looked at the intersection but didn’t actually see how it was configured.

The second explanation concerns the position of the signals. In left hand drive countries traffic signals are to the right whereas in right hand drive countries the signals are to the left. He may have looked across the intersection at the signal to his left, which was for the other side of the dual carriageway. He should have looked to his right, where he would have seen a red arrow.

Maybe both factors applied.

The third possibility is he didn’t know it’s illegal to turn on a red arrow. Turning on a red arrow is a common reason for failing to pass a DMV driving test in the United States. *

Two years after the accident I married an American and we bought a house in Houston, Texas, where I drive regularly. When approaching intersections I take particular care to  understand how the intersection is designed and which signals or lane markings relate to my lane and which are for other drivers.

I have found the following tips to be helpful when driving on a different side of the road. Please add your own suggestions in the comments to help all us switchers become safer drivers.

  1. The driver must always be in the center of the road. This means the driver faces oncoming traffic.
  2. Be aware of situations where you might be confused such as empty streets (no visual reminders) and car parks (no lanes marked) or coming out of driveways.
  3. It can be difficult to judge the distance of the passenger side from the curb. Look far ahead into the lane to where you want the car to go when driving straight or turning. This will help you center the car in the lane and avoid clipping the curb (my special skill)
  4. If you drive a manual transmission you will be using a different hand to change gears. This can take a while to get used to.
  5. When turning left or right on a dual carriageway across a wide four way intersection remember the lane you are aiming for is the one behind the median (or the center line)

Countries that drive on the left are:

Australia, Caribbean islands, Channel Islands, Cyprus, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Isle of Man, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Malta, Malaysia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom

  • DMV Rules of the Road, 13 April 2013. The video clips from the California DMV channel uploaded to U-Tube by the Khmer News Network.