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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

This is the time when women need to come together. I hope that women's colleges will take note of the courage that 16-yr.old Kami Baker,the young woman's friend, had in facing the school administration about security for students, and also challenging the school to acknowledge accomplishments (a white student but still, as a full-fledged minority in that school.) This is a young woman fighting for herself, her friend, and her younger sister.... this is a woman who deserves an opportunity to go farther in her education and endeavors. All women deserve to go farther, but I especially hope Kami Baker gets an educational scholarship for her bravery and activism. Others will follow.

October 29, 2009 - 3:29pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I meant to include the link of the young friend of the rape victim, standing up to the school administration:

October 29, 2009 - 3:33pm

I nearly cried after reading this article. Sometimes I really feel like the younger generation keeps losing morals as time passes. I'm sure this has happened in the past as well, but I feel like I keep hearing about these horrible incidents happening recently and it's just getting worse. What are parents doing to instill morals in their kids? Apparently nothing, at least for the boys who did this.

By the way, I don't completely buy the bystander effect and mob mentality. I think in some cases this can by a psychological explanation, but I'm a psychology major and I just can't accept that these kids let this happen and did this to a young girl (or anyone for that matter) without actually knowing what was happening. It seems to me they enjoyed committing a violent crime and should be treated as adults and as fully responsible for perpetrating and witnessing a crime. Perhaps they should be evaluated for any psychological conditions because I feel like any sane person could not have done this.

Rape crimes need to be treated as harsh as possible. For a woman, though I have been fortunate not to be a victim, I personally would feel that part of me has died if I were raped. We as a society need to do whatever we can to prevent crimes like this from happening.

October 29, 2009 - 2:58pm
(reply to Rheyanne Weaver)

Talking to many young people today, as I have, they don't think life is a gift or even fragile. Death and violence is nothing to them. I think many of them have no conscience or heart...and obviously no brains. They really do not imagine themselves living to be adults let alone elderly adults. I have talked with my nephews who are aged 18-28 yrs old and while all but one of them is very loving and caring and generous and hardworking, they agree with what I am saying about this. And my daughter, the special ed teacher, who teaches emotionally disturbed boys aged 10-14, she tells me that some kids are actually born without emotions, basic emotions!! I had always thought that babies were born good and were mostly a product of their enviornments, whether parents or neighborhoods or economics, education, etc. Plus when kids are constantly seeing on tv, movies, internet, at school, at home, everywhere! the terrible violence!! Kids being shot. Parents in jail. Grandparents in prison even. Knifings. Just sex, violent sex is part of a norm with them from what I gather!! I hate the myspace stuff so much.

November 2, 2009 - 1:22pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Rheyanne Weaver)

Very well put!

October 30, 2009 - 5:17pm
EmpowHER Guest

shit i would of did more than call for help i would of beat the shit out of them...i got 4 sisters let someone violate them they'll have something worse than prison waiting for them...and for all those ppl watching there just as wrong, thats a 15yr old girl there watching.

October 29, 2009 - 2:39pm
EmpowHER Guest

I don't think mob mentality or the bystander effect can explain this--these kids were taking pictures and actually enjoying the torture of another human being! What has this world come to? I would want to see who the parents of these kids are and what they think of their precious little kids doing something like this. I am thoroughly outraged and cannot believe how something this horrible could be enjoyed by others.

October 29, 2009 - 2:00pm
EmpowHER Guest

EGREGIOUS! The world is in an obviously dismal place when, in one's direct line of sight, an act so irrevocably heinous can take place and NOT ONE human being bats an eyelash. I'm forever disheartened and disgusted!

October 29, 2009 - 11:13am
EmpowHER Guest

So, if I only watch (and effectively allow) a crime being committed, I am free of guilt? Wow. The possibilities are endless. Our society sure does rise to the level of its expectations. Or sink.

October 29, 2009 - 11:12am
EmpowHER Guest

I'm sorry to hear that "not one single person " in 2 1/2 hours did NOTHING!!! MOB MENTALITY? Are you serious? Why are we making excuse's for these BYSTANDER'S ? I'm in an area in PHILADELPHIA that has Drugs and Crime I've witnessed people stab other's and do things that are unheard of BUT I WILL NOT STAND BY and allow some one to be injured ....Those are( choices )that we and HUMANS make every day in our DAILY LIVES....I think everyone who sent a picture or a text message shoul be charged with SOMETHING...HOW ABOUT SOME TYPE OF COMMUNITY SERVICE.....ARE PARENT'S NOT TEACHING THEIR CHILDREN MORELS?....

October 29, 2009 - 8:27am
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