Our Community Needs to Acknowledge Recent Crime

Staff Editorial

The Oct. 24 gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside the Richmond High School homecoming dance needs to be acknowledged by our community. The fact that no witnesses tried to stop what was happening proves that something needs to change; people need to step up. Witnesses blamed peer pressure for their lack of action, and students feared that snitching would prove dangerous for them. Ultimately, only one person chose to call the police. Recently the Richmond City Council publicly honored this person for her “act of humanity.” While she did do the right thing, reporting the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl should be a given and immediate reaction, not an unusually courageous action. We cannot afford acting passively in such circumstances.

It may be easier on our consciences and may lessen our fear if we disregard the attack as another distant tragedy that does not concern us at Miramonte. However, we must understand that this happened at a high school, not unlike our own. In fact Richmond, within 15 miles of Orinda, lies practically next door.

Though many do feel the full weight of this crime, some students choose to make insensitive jokes about it, a reaction apparently shared even at Richmond High School itself following the rape. This grossly inappropriate response is probably not expressed because students are heartless animals who believe that this was an appropriate act.  It’s more likely because it is very difficult and unpleasant to process and understand the reality of what happened. If we “otherize” the victim, coping with news of a crime like this becomes easier; it seems unreal and impersonal.

Protecting oneself from reality is no excuse. No one should dehumanize this poor girl any further by dismissing the evil committed against her as unimportant or irrelevant.

This girl is someone’s daughter and friend, and while she will heal physically, there’s no way to recover quickly from that kind of abuse and humiliation. Sensitivity to the situation is important. And although most of us know our fair share of inappropriate jokes, their commonality does not justify ignorantly attributing humor to gang rape.

Echoing a shockingly popular viewpoint that blames the victim, a Richmond High School junior told the New York Times, “she got drunk one time and messed with the wrong crowd and provoked some dude and got raped, that’s it.”

Another Miramonte senior said jokingly, “It wasn’t even a big deal because she was unconscious.”

That is hardly a reassurance. Here is a reality check for you: a 15-year-old sophomore girl was dropped off by her dad at her Homecoming dance. She ended up being raped for two and a half hours straight by 10 people while at least 20 of her classmates voluntarily watched and did nothing other than laugh and videotape what they saw.

A witness told ABC7News that “they were kicking her in her head and they were beating her up, robbing her and ripping her clothes off; it’s something you can’t get out of your mind.”

There is absolutely nothing funny or acceptable about this cruelty or that girl’s humiliation.

We also cannot attribute this act to the higher crime rates in Richmond or to cultural differences alone. We cannot argue that this could never happen in Orinda. Gang rape is neither normal nor expected in Richmond either. The truth is that this kind of thing should never happen anywhere or to anybody. If there is even a handful of people who don’t care about or recognize the evil here it is a bad sign. Even worse is that no one stood up in opposition of the attack.

In fact, the law doesn’t even offer full justice, as those who watched but did nothing to try to stop the rape cannot be charged; the 1999 California law against not reporting a witnessed crime on a child only applies to children under 14 years of age. Apparently watching the mass rape of a 15 year old is less horrific and condemnable in the eyes of the law.

As high school students, as teachers, as parents, or as human beings at the very least, we cannot ignore what happened. This is not a bad or scary movie that we can turn off if we don’t want to see it. Although none of us may ever understand how a group of people could have done such a disturbing and inhumane thing, we have to accept that they did it.

Until we surrender our naïveté and denial and acknowledge both the crime that was committed that night at the dance, as well as the crime committed every time someone belittles this rape or blames the victim, there is no guarantee that a similar tragedy won’t happen again in the future. It is ignorance, insensitivity, and inaction that, regardless of intentions, send the message that sexual assault, violence, and brutal degradation are OK.

When a crime happens, people must step up and do something about it. Whether that means trying to personally stop the attack or walking around the corner to call authorities anonymously, everyone can and should take action.