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Bystander Duties: Gang Rape Puts Eyes on Witnesses

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By Kamika Dunlap on October 28, 2009 2:10 PM

Five people are now in custody in connection with the gang rape and beating of a 15-year-old girl outside her Northern California high school campus after a homecoming dance.

Police say she was allegedly attacked by a group of young men near benches located at the far end of the school yard. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, as many as two dozen people witnessed the rape or knew about the incident and did not report it. That's what many psychologists call bystander non-intervention.

According to police, the victim had left the dance and was drinking alcohol in the school courtyard when she was attacked.

The arrests include three juveniles. At least one of those teenagers, a 15-year-old boy, knew the girl and was booked on suspicion of felony sexual assault. In addition, 21-year-old Salvador Rodriguez of Richmond was arrested and Manuel Ortega, 19 who is being held on $800,000 bail on suspicion of rape and robbery.

Investigators plan to meet with prosecutors, who will determine whether to file charges and what specific counts each suspect will face. Police hope offering a reward for $20,000 reward will bring more people forward with any information.

Authorities said young men laughed and took pictures with their cell phones, stole the girl's jewelry and took turns assaulting her.

All this went on for reportedly two hours while dozens of people stood by and watched. Since when has witnessing a crime become a spectator sport? What happened to the bystander effect, a type of social phenomenon to chooose to respond during emergency situations? Where is the public outcry?

San Francisco Lt. Mark Gagan said a woman "who was several blocks away who heard people discussing what was occurring," notified the police.

When officers arrived the girl was semiconscious beneath a picnic table. She was then airlifted to a hospital and is in stable condition.

"This was a barbaric act. I still cannot get my head around the fact that numerous people either watched, walked away or participated in her assault," said police Lt. Gagan in an Associated Press article.

Witnesses who failed to report the crime could be charged with aiding and abetting if police can show their actions facilitated or goaded the perpetrators, according to the Contra Costa District Attorney's office.

As noted by CNN, under California law it's a crime not to report any crime you witness against anyone 14 years old or younger. Here, however, the victim is 15 years old.

Sadly, this incident is an example of what happens when bystander responsibility is lost in the group mentality and ultimately could have cost the victim her life.

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