I understand the Bystander Effect, but just wish to add my own interpretation.
I do not believe that the inability to intervene in a situation such as the Kitty Genovese labels a bystander as a coward or apathetic.
I will concede that the human mind is morbidly fascinated with violence and its results, but this does not justify calling them cowards.
What Darley and Latane sought to establish with the Bystander Effect, is that; the more bystanders that there are, the less probable it is that one of them will intervene.
It is possible that we do not wish to bear the responsibility of being the ‘Savior’; it may just be too dangerous, you may get pulled into a situation from which you find it impossible to escape.
The research that Darley and Latane conducted showed that individuals, in their study, students responding to the sound of someone choking, will lend their help to those in need. The figures showed that as more students were added to each ‘choking’ scenario, the probability of one of them getting up to help the distressed individual decreased.
If one person witnesses an event of this nature and fails to act, it is more likely to be fear than cowardice. If many people observe it, it is deeply ingrained in human nature to avoid danger; no-one wants to be the first one to get hurt. Nobody wants to get hurt at all; it is much safer to avoid conflict.
The question of morality gets pulled into play here. As Shaw once said, “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.” (Or something to that effect – Cyberculosis).
Is it right to watch and not help? No.
But does it happen? Yes, everyday.
The best we can do is to try and empower ourselves, try to build a naturally protective temperament. The Bystander Effect does not paint observers as cowards, it portrays them as inept.