Reminder: A 15 Year Old Girl Was Brutally Gang Raped While Over Twenty Teenagers Watched

By | October 30th, 2009 | 13 comments

By Shelby Knox and Rachel Simmons

richmondhighOn Saturday night, a fifteen year old girl was brutally gang raped outside a homecoming dance she attended. According to media reports, more than two dozen students watched, photographed and filmed while as many as ten different people raped her. They were then overheard “reminiscing” about it. The girl was found lying unconscious under a bench.

Yesterday, three young men were arraigned in the case wearing bulletproof vests after police reportedly received threats on their lives. It’s important to note the outrage at the attackers is a delayed reaction. In reality, it took several days before the national media deemed this hideous event worthy of coverage at all. Four days after the attack, officials at the school where the rape occurred were still trying to put a positive spin on it, claiming the dance was otherwise a “successful event.”

Four weeks ago, Kate Harding lit up the Internet condemning the celebrity defense of Roman Polanski’s rape of a thirteen year old girl. It’s no coincidence that we are once again late to recognize the violent sexual assault of yet another teenage girl.

On Thursday, five days after the rape, the women of The View marveled that California law only mandates reporting of a sexual assault when the victim is under the age of fourteen. The Washington Post’s first mention of the assault was on Wednesday, when it speculated that the increase in violence against women on TV left the rape witnesses so desensitized that it didn’t occur to them to take any action. And almost all the media coverage of the gang rape has focused on the twenty or so bystanders who watched and even live-tweeted the brutalization of a fellow student.

When the rape was eventually reported by the mainstream media, victim-blaming was first on the agenda. The New York Times was one of the first outlets outside of California to mention the assault, noting in all subsequent reports, “the girl had consumed a large amount of alcohol by the time the assault began.” One almost expects for the next line to be a description of the “asking for it” outfit she must have been wearing.

Even the feminist media that led the outrage over Roman Polanski has neglected to report and investigate this story: Double XX (Slate’s women’s blog) has yet to mention it, Feministing recorded one line of outrage at the school official’s stupid commentary on Wednesday, and Salon’s Broadsheet logged 276 hand-wringing words on Tuesday, wondering, “When did high school students become so unafraid, so violent?”

What’s even more disconcerting to us as girls’ advocates is the muted response in the organized feminist community. None of the organizations that sent out press releases and appeared in the national media after Polanski’s arrest have noted the connection that we’re once talking about the rape of a young girl. As the public rallies to throw the book at the defendants in this one particular case, no one has mentioned that a rape occurs every two minutes in the United States and 44% of victims are under the age of eighteen. This assault seems like an opportunity lost to talk about an epidemic of violence against young women, and the crisis of school safety in our country, but perhaps it’s simply too inconveniently timed to coincide with the final push for health care reform – although it’s worth noting that some insurance companies consider sexual assault a pre-existing condition.

In a welcome exception to the widespread silence, Rosalind Wiseman argued the assault is an opportunity to talk with all teens about what it means to be an empowered bystander, and the high cost of staying silent in the face of degradation and cruelty.

It’s hard not to wonder how the conversation would be different if a 15 year old middle class girl was gang raped by black and Latino men outside a suburban homecoming dance. There is a growing media narrative about Richmond, and the high school where the attack occurred, as poor and notoriously violent. Is this because we want to believe that rape doesn’t happen to wealthy girls? Did it take so long for the media to report this assault because the survivor is from a working class community and comes from a school where perhaps we simply expect kids to “act like that?” Is it because we still live in a society that deems the life of a less privileged woman less important?

When Kanye West hijacked the microphone from Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards, Twitter crashed with the force of bystanders outraged on her behalf. Facebook was awash in calls for Kanye’s head. We live in a culture in which oceans of humanity speak up for a celebrity who hardly needs attention or help, while a girl is brutalized behind a school by two dozen boys and barely a ripple is felt.

It’s not surprising, then, that the people who are speaking out on behalf of the girl are other girls. Friends of the victim stood up at a community meeting to protest the lack of security, both at the dance and at the school in general, claiming the young woman who was raped had felt unsafe before. Margarita Vargas, who was not at the dance but reported the assault after getting a text about it, placed the blame squarely on the perpetrators.”They think it’s cool,” she said. “They weren’t raised to respect girls.”

Judging from the muted public reaction to this horrifying assault, we’re starting to wonder if any of us were.

UPDATE: The comments section is now closed. Some comments violated the posting policy at, and have been deleted. Responses to these comments have also been deleted. On behalf of Shelby and I, thank you for responding to this post.

13 Responses to “Reminder: A 15 Year Old Girl Was Brutally Gang Raped While Over Twenty Teenagers Watched”

  • […] the media, Rachel Simmons and Shelby Knox express outrage at how silent the public response has been, most notably the lack of response of the feminist […]

  • Mia says:

    Thank you for spreading the news further. It’s amazing how callous our youth has become – and all of the people who tweeted, emailed and watched should be punished held responsible for what happened to the young woman – would they have helped if she was their sister? It would not have been a show to watch then, right, because then it was their “blood”. And where are the adults at that time? And the parents of those who performed the deed and those who watched, how in the world did they raise their kids to think that a gangbang is entertaining? I thought we were making headway towards ending violence, whether physical, mental or sexual,against our fellowmen – we should rise above just shaking our heads and be proactive! Please help educate our girls that ANY form of disrespect is wrong and should not be tolerated, whether of not done “jokingly”. Let us not be enablers!

  • Deepthinker957 says:

    The idea that these young men had no respect for her safety, individuality, well being, or diginity has nothing to do with the consequences of the attack itself. They may be contributing factors to the attack, but these young men knew what they were doing. Further, they knew what they were doing was wrong, as did those who were tweeting, filming, and photographing.

    They walk into court with bullet proof vests on because the police insist on it, and with good reason. Insofar as the bystanders and the offenders, each and every one, I would like to see them get “the book thrown at them”. Full charges as accomplices to the act, charges of illegally recording a sex act, violations of privacy laws, recording pornography, recording and distributing harmful material, and where State laws allow for it, failing to uphold the Samaritan code.

  • Ellie says:

    I was absolutely appalled when i heard about this. In part because of the lack of media attention and general outrage but mainly because of reports of people who STOOD there and WATCHED and did nothing. That just completely escapes me and i can’t even comprenhend that part. I too was bothered by the reports of the girl being drunk while it happened. While i understand that you must look out for yourself and alcohol makes it difficult to do that, that does not make it okay for rape to occur, ever. I thought we had moved past the thinking that if a rape victim is drunk it’s “okay”. I also thought we had moved forward with our if you see something, say something. I am clearly and sadly mistaken. Thank you for your post.

  • Julie says:

    People live tweeted about this? That is just absolutely abhorrent to me, let alone what has happened to this girl. Thank you for posting about this and sharing your views. I share them.

  • Sue D'Onym says:

    While I really like most of what you have to say here,I have to disagree with your obligatory “what if this had been a white girl, blah blah” point. My suspicion is that the media is tiptoeing around this because the perps are Latino, & they’re so terrified of being accused of racism that they’re not going near this. Let’s imagine instead that the perps were white athletes–there would be a media frenzy, no matter what the race of the victim.

    It’s obligatory if you cover this kind of story to write the “why did this happen” piece, and nobody wants to write the piece saying that these particular Latino youths have no moral center, because people of color are inherently noble.

  • Spielster says:

    This case is beyond heart breaking. The story of the complete and utter lack of safety provide by the supposed security professionals from the victims friend terrifies me. I am not sure how CNN seems to be the only mainstream network to be covering this. I feel the conversation where we blame everything else other than the culprits is insane. We are all capable
    of terrible things, but it takes a special kind of disgusting individual to look beyond the tears and brutality that was placed upon this girl and still take part. I wish the govt, womens orgs or a Christian org who waste their time on other ridiculous things would stand up and speak out against this.

  • abyss2hope says:

    I’m not part of the MSM but I blogged about this case and the strong foundation for crimes like this on Wed. in a post titled: Contrasting response to Richmond CA beating and gang rape and other reported gang rapes

    The best news is that many states, including MN where I live are developing primary prevention plans which look at ways to prevent perpetration (vs. old model of preventing victimization) and to change rape supportive attitudes into healthy attitudes. Several counties in MN have passed SV prevention resolutions which commit those counties to actual changes. I encourage everyone to help in this world changing effort.

  • Kimberly says:

    I am so OUTRAGED by this! It breaks my heart, not only that this happened, but that teenagers watched & did nothing to help her!!! Why? Was it not cool to leave & report it?.. That’s bs. Our children need to know how to stand up for themselves & for others. I’m doing my best to teach my 2 sons this message & I teach them by showing them. I sometimes embarrass my oldest son b/c I have broken up violent fights at his school. I could never watch any kind of violent act w/o doing something about it. I am deeply saddened that this young girl was victimized by the perpetrators as well as the guilty bystanders. I believe all those who watched & did nothing should be charged as well as the rapists.

  • Jess says:

    Amazing – I am re tweeting and posting where I can. Great perspective – and a ridiculous reminder that we are ALL the bystanders of this rape. ALL of us.

    Let’s take action and continue to talk about it!

  • Well done, Ladies. Thank you for writing this.

    As the mother of a daughter, this story has left me feeling sick for days. My husband is also very disturbed by it. As the mother of a son, I am unable to comprehend who raises their boys this way.

    I hope the victim, who is finally out of the hospital, has begun to slowly heal. I hope the strong girls around her continue to raise their voices and condemn the equally cowardly actions of the school and the assault’s bystanders. To those involved in the rape, I hope justice is swift and fierce.

    My final hope is that the victim’s community, state, and nation form a protective circle around her and take the stand that our girls are not garbage to be brutalized and left underneath a bench, and we won’t stand for it. We won’t stand for it.

  • WritewhereUr says:

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this post. I too am shocked at the lack of outrage in the media. I think as a society we are becoming so desensitzed to such horrible crimes that we need to really take stock of what we “feed” our young people through the internet, videos, music and any other venue. I blogged about this the other day here with a post titled, California Gang Rapid Is A Moral Warning Flag. You can read this post here: .

    Thanks for addressing this issue for your readers!

  • Hello Ladies says:

    Thank you for writing this.