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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
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I completely agree. Humanity makes me sicker and sicker as every day goes by. We've lost our minds. Completely.

November 20, 2009 - 4:04pm
EmpowHER Guest

So all the studies explain it and the law prevents prosecution of the bystanders. Well that just takes care of everythng doesnt it? If anything, the mob did nothing because they never felt responsible... they enjoyed it. As a parent I have come upon some really brutal visual games, cartoon shows, porn sites etc. that I believe many kids have access to and may watch routinely. My own children's response to watching such a brutal violent cartoon show was "hey we know it isnt real" but I am concerned that it desensitizes the senses. To those people who desensetize them selves was this any different than the shows, the games the imagery they allow themselves to see on a routine basis. I think not and that is unfortunate. When what we see entertains us to the point we cant discern the real deal from a game or a show, then it is tragic.

October 29, 2009 - 8:21am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I completely agree. As a teacher it appalls me to see students playing these horrible games. Violence is not entertainment and when we turn violence into entertainment we get instances such as this -- where no one does anything as a young girl is brutalized.

October 31, 2009 - 3:20pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Actually, this is not the case. That myth was started up by the Over Protective Parental Society of America (aka Catholics).

Sure there have been studies that so called "prove" that violent games have adverse effects on players, but there are also counter studies that prove if the child was raised correctly and had his morals installed correctly when they were being raised that exposure to violent games and media will not have any effect on them.

Most of these studies use already mentally questionable subjects who have a bad home environment in which the parents are not strict enough with rules and teaching life's lessons to their children.

I can offer up myself as a resource for postulating that viloent media doesnt make viloent people.

I started playing FPS (First Person Shooter) games like Half-life and Golden Eye, fighting games, Grand Theft Auto, Need for Speed, and Resident Evil when I was 11. I do not and probably will not own a gun and don't believe that guns are useful to civilians.

I have never been in a fight or been arrested. I have never gotten a speeding ticket or anything.

These games had no influance on me because my praents did what they were supposed to do.

Anytime you see a violent action based upon a game, thats a parent that did not do their nature given job. It is the parents job to protect their children from what they do not think is good for them, not the government, or other third-party.

It's like blaming the makers of a machine gun used in a war for killing your child when he or she was killed by terrorists or some other opposing force.

Or over the counter chemical makers if their products are used in the making of a bomb.

Its passing the responsibility for the actions of the parents to the game makers.

November 1, 2009 - 11:14am
EmpowHER Guest

The "bystander effect" and "mob mentality" may have played a role, but I think there's a much simpler explanation than that. I'd bet that some of the perpetrators were gang members, and witnesses feared that if they told, or even returned to the gym building where the authorities were, some "friends" would find them and give them the same treatment that they gave this poor girl.

Although I can't say with certainty, and evidence may very well come forward to prove me wrong, but I would even speculate that the witnesses who didn't take part stood silent in shock, while the individuals taking photos and cheering were in fact the perpetrators who were standing by waiting their "turn".

October 29, 2009 - 7:28am
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