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15-Year-Old Girl Gang-Raped at Homecoming While Others Cheer: How Does This Happen?

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I wish I could say this was an unimaginable crime. But it’s real.

Five – out of as many as 10 – young men between the ages of 15 and 19 could appear in a Richmond, Calif. court as early as today after allegedly gang-raping a 15-year-old girl at a homecoming dance for more than two hours last weekend. The victim was apparently beaten, robbed and raped in a secluded area while the dance went on nearby.

That’s bad enough. This young girl’s life has been hijacked, violated and changed forever because of the violent, sick actions of a group of boys. But the story doesn’t stop there. Apparently as many as 20 other students stood by, watched, cheered and even took pictures as the girl was raped.

Watched. Cheered. Took pictures.

As a 15-year-old girl was beaten and raped.

No one called for help.

How does this happen? How can it be that no one in the crowd felt uncomfortable witnessing such brutality? How can it be that no one slipped away to find a teacher, tell a security guard, or call 911?

The boys – I hesitate to call them men, even though they are so far being charged as adults – will be dealt with. Five are in custody, more are being investigated, and authorities are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of any of the assailants, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. If convicted, some could spend life in prison. That might be enough time for them to regret their actions.

But the bystanders cannot be held responsible. In California it’s a crime to not report a sex crime happening to a child 14 and younger, but this victim is 15. There’s no recourse. A law officer interviewed by ABC News Wednesday night was disgusted that there was nothing that could be done to those who didn’t help.

Police are familiar with the behavior called “mob mentality,” when a group of people act together without any planning. It’s like animals acting in a herd – they will follow the leader whether the leader jumps off a cliff or goes home to the barn. Mob mentality is often cited in instances such instances as the panic to get out of a burning building, riots, looting during a power outage or trampling when a crowd gets out of control.

“The mob mentality that took place for two and a half hours that allowed these students, these young adults, to behave this way," said Richmond police lieutenant Mark Gagan. "None of them were thinking or acting individually, it was a mob that took over."

And as for the bystanders? Attribute it to “the bystander effect,” which refers to a classic study in which researchers found that the more witnesses there are, the less likely any individual is to take action. The presence of others spreads the responsibility for action out among the crowd, lessening the effect on any single person. And the presence of the crowd itself encourages people to “go along” with what the majority is doing. It was particularly heinous in this case. In fact, one officer told ABC News that onlookers might fear that they themselves would become victims if they separated themselves from the group to seek help.

Gagan said authorities finally learned about the crime from a young woman who had heard two men bragging about it. Police later found the victim semiconscious and naked from the waist down under a picnic table about an hour after the dance ended. She is still in the hospital.

What do you think? Are bystanders responsible in a case like this? Would you have been strong enough to go for help? Or would you have been frightened to leave the group of people watching?


Add a Comment45 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I am a Criminal Justice major and one theory never explains all of the actions. However, bystander effect is not an excuse. Ignorance is no excuse. Also, for those who took pictures and video, they can be charged with possession of child porn by the federal government. Hince, they are not off the hook. It is just a matter of whether people want to take charge and make an example.

November 8, 2009 - 1:20pm
(reply to Anonymous)


Thank you so much for your perspective. The possession of child porn as a possible federal charge against these so-called bystanders is good news. Let's hope that the investigation can be all-encompassing enough to make such charges a possibility.

November 10, 2009 - 8:10am
EmpowHER Guest

My grandmother was raped when she was 84. It was a violent disgusting act. Someone waited in the car while the deed was done. The man was an illegal alien who did not speak English. It was done as an act of revenge against my father and very racially motivated. The man is still in prison. He's very lucky - the police found him before my father and brothers did.

The driver of the car who waited while he raped my grandmother served not a day. He was also an illegal alien. My personal belief is that while he may not have raped her, the fact that he drove the rapist 25 miles out in the country, sat in the car and did nothing but listen to her scream, makes him culpable. He participated in this crime as surely as if he'd raped her as well.

The bystanders are culpable - if in no other way than simply not being a "good samaritan" and trying to help.

Persons of "latino" (the new politically correct term) descent are not more than 40% in the US. They will be the dominant race shortly. If the illegals were counted, they would be the majority now. These are the people who will, within a few years, be running our country through the votes that they cast. It scares me to death that these same people who stood by and watched, and took pictures, and video taped and did nothing will be running this country.

November 5, 2009 - 9:09am
(reply to Anonymous)


It makes me ill to hear what happened to your grandmother. Just physically ill.

It seems impossible that the person who drove the car and participated in at least the abduction of the woman out into the country couldn't have been charged as an accessory to the crime. I don't understand this at all. Do you know what the reasoning was behind not charging him with anything?

I am so sorry that this happened to your grandmother. It's horrific. I hope she was able to recover from it, and I hope the rapist's sentence is long.

November 5, 2009 - 10:09am
EmpowHER Guest

i am disgusted

November 5, 2009 - 3:34am

An update: On Tuesday, a seventh suspect was arrested in the rape of the 15-year-old girl. He is 21 years old and was charged with rape and rape in concert with force. If convicted on all charges, he could spend life in prison.

The victim was able to go home from the hospital last week.

Of the six arrested earlier, who are ages 15 to 21, four have been charged, one was released due to lack of evidence, and one remains in custody awaiting charges.

Police had said that up to 10 males participated in the rape. They are continuing to investigate.

"We’re actively pursuing more suspects,” said Police Lt. Mark Gagan. "There is still a lot more work that has to be done."

November 4, 2009 - 8:44am
EmpowHER Guest

Richmond High is only 2% white. A Contra Costs Times columnist says the victim was white. Though I had my suspicions, this is the only place I've read this fact in the official media. The attackers appear to be all black and hispanic. If the facts were reversed, wouldn't race feature prominently in the coverage of this atrocious story? As a side note, another white-on-black hate-crime rape case was exposed as the latest hoax of its kind when the "victim" just last week admitted she made the story up.

November 2, 2009 - 3:18pm

It is hard to even know how to respond to this article. I have personally known two rape victims - one was a 14 year old girl and the other an 84 year old woman. Regardless of the age, this crime never left them and changed them both in fundamental ways. My heart breaks for this young woman whose life has been shattered.

It goes without saying that the men/boys or perhaps I should say animals who committed the crime deserve the severest punishment possible. The question of the bystanders is another story. I personally don't buy the mob mentality theory. They stayed because on some level, they were enjoying it and participating in it vicariously. It is a SAD SAD commentary on where we have come as a society, as a people, as a nation, when our youth (remember, these are going to be our future leaders), could stand by, casually observing and do nothing. In today's instant communication society, these teenagers are never without their electronic texting devices (ie. cell phones). Someone could have called for help. Mob mentality isn't an excuse. They didn't call because they didn't want to.

Where have the morals and values and just the common decency that used to be a part of our country gone? What does it say about us as a people and a nation if this is our youth?

Very very heartbreaking - very sad.... Not only for the victim but for all of society. What a sad indictment.

November 2, 2009 - 2:23pm
(reply to Mary Kyle)

Yes those kids with their cellphone glued to their ears and hands should have been at the very least calling 911 and their own parents. And the parents who think their poor kids shouldn't be punished to the fullest on this are much worse than their brats. When my now 30 yr old daughter was a young teenager I knew she wouldn't always be perfect but told her to she could always tell me anything and we could work it out.....as long as she was alive!! I figured that if there was drinking, drugs, anything like that or even pregnancy I may be mad, I may punish her, but if she was truthful that is what counted and we would survive. I always worried about her girlfriend whose mother was also my best friend. Kit thought her daughter WAS perfect and always would be. Then the first time she fubbed up, Mom was devasted. This case goes way beyond anything that even 15 yrs ago I would ever have dreamed in my worse nightmare. The coldness of the violence just continues to give me goosebumps hours after hearing of this!!! It's one of the saddest commentaries on our society I have heard about. Those bystanders if they can't be punished in the legal sense should be heard responsible on the school level....they have codes of conduct and behavior. There is zero tolerance rules and they should all be expelled.

November 2, 2009 - 3:02pm

Can you imagine a young teenager being raped by many boys, and beaten and in a crowd even for 2 1/2 hrs!!! I can not even imagine a grown adult having sex, loving sex, for that long!! What physical condition she must be in let alone the emotional one. Think about how long 2 1/2 hrs of that must have been like....even a few minutes....those kids watching and cheering should think about how it could have been them being the victim!!

November 2, 2009 - 1:30pm
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