Monday, November 16, 2009

Somebody's Daughter, Somebody's Sister

November 16, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, Richmond, California made headlines. After a high school dance, a 15-year old girl walked out of the homecoming celebration and into a nightmare that will follow her for all her days.

She left alone, presumably to call her dad to pick her up. Before she made that call however, she met up with a friend of hers who invited her to join his group of buddies, who were drinking in a notoriously dangerous area adjacent to the school. She agreed, and within a very short span of time, consumed enough alcohol to render her nearly unconscious. Should she have declined to join the young men? Probably. Should she have exercised restraint in the consumption of alcohol? Most certainly. Regardless, however, nothing that she did or didn't do made her deserve what happened to her next.

One of the boys suggested they have sex, and she declined. When he came at her, according to witnesses, she kicked him. That was enough to send the alcohol-fueled pack into a rage. They attacked her, held her down, and began a vicious assault. "Rape in concert" is what they call it in legal terms. Gang rape is the more commonly known term. Horrifying as that is, even more abhorrent was that it lasted more than two hours, while a group of kids gathered around to watch, laughing and attempting to take video on their cell phones. For TWO HOURS. Meanwhile, not one person attempted to intervene or call the police. No one did anything to stop it, despite the fact that there were six to ten perpetrators, and up to twenty spectators. In the midst of her attackers, surrounded by 'innocent' bystanders, this young girl was absolutely and utterly alone. And that, my friends, compounds this tragedy exponentially. What does it say about our social mentality that we can so distance ourselves from what is happening right before our eyes? How is it possible to divorce ourselves from such gross inhumanity at our feet?

One of the young men who was arrested and later released for lack of evidence claims that though he was there, he was not one of the violent attackers--he was merely an observer. When asked why he did not call the police, he cites fear of retaliation as the deterrent. I suppose I could understand that. The neighborhood where this took place is known for gangs and crime. Who knows how many concealed weapons might have been at the scene? These are just kids, after all, so is it realistic to expect these high school students to throw themselves into a potentially fatal situation to save one who is in danger? Not everyone is destined to be a hero.

No, I don't expect everyone to be a hero. But to stand silent (or not so silent--there was apparently much cheering and encouraging going on) for the duration without being moved to action--any action--is beyond comprehension. Why couldn't someone have stepped away and made the call, even anonymously? At what point in time does that silence become tacit agreement? Had the victim been one year younger, all of the bystanders could be held legally responsible. It's illegal to watch a crime committed against a fourteen year old without attempting to stop it or report it, but if the victim is fifteen there is no legal responsibility. Who draws that line? I know the rationale behind the law, but ultimately, I'm not nearly as interested in the legality of the situation as I am the morality of allowing another human being to suffer that kind of degradation.

There are those who would argue that it's easy to say what you think you might do when confronted with that kind of situation, heaven forbid. What one should do, in theory, can often go out the window in the heat of the moment. Who are we to judge those people? How can we possibly know what was going through their heads? Still I maintain that a frozen moment of 'deer in the headlights' inaction is miles away from taking pictures on a cell phone camera for two hours. Those young men, including the one who says he does not regret making the call that could have stopped the brutal attack, are in part responsible for the assault. There is a moral culpability for those who became audience to that horrific spectacle. They are responsible for the dehumanization of someone's daughter, someone's sister, someone's best friend. And knowing that it wasn't their own daughter, their own sister, their own best friend, does not excuse them from the responsibility of action--any action--that might have spared her the nightmare that will surely be her companion for the rest of her life.

To read the story, click on the link below.


  1. I read about this in the news. It's the saddest one I've heard in awhile.

    I don't expect anybody to be a hero, but how could nobody just sneak away and call the cops? How could not a single person step up?

  2. This is so tragic.

    Ironically, this week in my social psych class we are discussing conformity, and topics including the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility, which is exactly what occurred among the witnesses of this act. We've also talked about the murder of Kitty Genovese - I'm not sure if you've heard of her, but she was a 28 year-old woman who was sexually assaulted and killed just yards away from her apartment building while 38 people watched without calling for help. Not one of 38 people bothered to call for help because each of them figured someone else would call the police and they wouldn't need to be the one to do that. Like you said, what one should do can easily be thrown out the window in the heat of the moment, but I still just can't believe that the power of being in a group has such an immense effect in so many ways.

    This girl's life will never be the same, all because not one person could speak up. It's just unbelievable.

  3. Shocking and sad. It reminds me of the tragedies you hear about holiday shoppers when stores hold these crazy sales - it's as though a mob takes on a personality of its own.

  4. It's wrong and sickening on so many levels. I can get the fear of retribution - but come on. Stories like this make me so sad for all of us.