Why Did No One Stop The Richmond Gang Rape?

Five suspects are in custody for the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl after her homecoming dance in Richmond, California, and police say more than twenty people may have witnessed the assault. So why didn't anyone help her?

Four teenagers, aged 15, 16, 17 and 19, were charged yesterday with rape and acting in concert, and could face life in prison. 21-year-old Salvador Rodriguez is also in custody but has not yet been charged. Police say they expect to make more arrests, and that as many as 10 people, from teenagers to men in their mid-twenties, assaulted the young woman. They also say that up to two dozen people witnessed the rape.

Why didn't anyone say anything? Experts interviewed by CNN have a number of theories. Some mention the bystander effect, in which the more people witness something, the less likely anyone is to stop it. Says Drew Carberry, a director at the National Council on Crime Prevention, "If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then doing nothing becomes the norm." As CNN's Stephanie Chen explains, "The responsibility among the group becomes diffused." This sound a little bit like what happens when you ask a favor of a lot of people over e-mail, and indeed, criminologist Jack McDevitt says the Richmond rape was too violent to have been the result of bystander effect alone. He says growing up in violent Richmond may have conditioned the onlookers to fear retaliation if they said anything. "They don't believe the system will protect them from the offender," he explains. "They think the offender will find out their name."

While community violence and a "no-snitching" culture may have played a role, it's important to realize that not helping a gang-rape victim also requires a complete lack of respect and consideration for her. Organizational psychologist Salvatore Didato says that if onlookers aren't close with the victim, they may see the perpetrator as more important. "The victim to them is a non-person," he says. This seems especially likely in a culture (prevalent throughout America, not just in dangerous places) that sees male sexual conquest as hip and acceptable. Margarita Vargas, who reported the rape, says of the rapists, "They think it's cool. They weren't raised to respect girls."

Meanwhile, the victim's friends are unsurprisingly angry that the high school where the homecoming dance was held could not protect her. 16-year-old Kim Baker faults school officials and police for allowing a large crowd of young men to gather outside the dance. She says,

I looked outside of the gym and I saw 12 to 15 guys, sitting there, with no IDs. The officers — not only did they not check the IDs of those students or men sitting outside of of our campus, but the security officers who are employed here did no ... checking either. The assistant principal looked outside and actually saw those men, and did nothing about it.

But school district spokesman Marin Trujillo says, "Nothing happened at the event. We're currently exploring our protocols to make sure that we can expand them, and make sure that this isolated incident doesn't get repeated again." Trujillo adds that the homecoming dance itself was actually successful "in terms of safety." Memo to Trujillo: when a girl leaves your dance and is subsequently gang-raped, its nothing close to a "success".

Gang Rape Raises Questions About Bystanders' Role [CNN]
Friend Of Gang Rape Victim Blasts School Officials Over Safety [CNN]
4 Charged In Alleged Gang Rape Of California Girl [AP]
Five Arrested In Gang Rape Of Teen [UPI.com]