Just three months ago, a 16-year-old girl living in Richmond, Calif., left her school dance to get a ride home with her father. While waiting for her dad, she joined a group of young men and began drinking with them. Shortly thereafter, the men began to assault her, first by beating her, then robbing her, and finishing by gang-raping her for the next two and a half hours. Although authorities estimate there were up to 10 attackers, they believe anywhere from 15 to 20 people stopped to watch, some taking photos and laughing, with others even joining in. Not one person called the police.
Because of a law passed in California in 1999, law enforcement could not hold accountable any of the witnesses who observed but did nothing to intervene, which would have been as simple as dialing three numbers on a cell phone. The law specifically stated that witnesses to such a crime could only be held responsible if the victim was younger than 14.
This loophole was too egregious to be overlooked by Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Ventura, Santa Barbara). Last week, Nava “fast tracked’ the Witness Responsibility Act (Assembly Bill 984), which holds witnesses accountable for failing to report a rape or murder to authorities. We fully support this endeavor but are appalled that this bill should ever have come to pass in the first place.
In this day and age, when our lives are propelled by constant interaction via texting, phone calls and e-mails through our smart phones and cell phones, it is outrageous to think that no one took the initiative to help this young girl. But it goes beyond her life-changing situation. The reaction, or lack thereof, of those witnesses is a reflection upon our society as a whole.
While such terrible crimes as rape or murder will never be excusable, these heinous acts are unfortunately a part of burgeoning society, where the lowlifes and law abiding citizens live side by side. But enabling such acts to be committed by “staying out of it” makes those witnesses just as bad as the criminals themselves. It is a shame, in a country where we boast progressive ideals and brotherly love, that such terrible acts against humanity can be
witnessed and basically condoned by looking the other way.
This reprehensible act of not getting involved, however, is nothing new. In the 1988 Oscar-winning production The Accused, based on the true story of Cheryl Ann Araujo, Sara Tobias, played by Jodie Foster, is gang-raped by six men in a bar. The crux of the story wasn’t so much in the defense attorney’s trying to depict Tobias as a promiscuous woman who was asking for it, but in the district attorney’s role of holding culpable those who observed the rape, and even cheered it on. The attorney was successful, but in real life, those who observed Araujo’s rape were never prosecuted. Not only has the time of turning a blind eye now passed, but soon it will be illegal.
Although the idea of the good Samaritan role is noble, we understand in this sue-happy country that doing the right thing has a downside, especially when a person takes a hands-on approach to resolving a bad situation. But calling the police — properly trained and equipped professionals — on behalf of someone who is being violated, especially in a violent way, is the least we can do, and soon, may be what we lawfully must do. It is too bad, though, that it takes laws for us to treat each other the way we would want to be treated.