Richmond and its youth are getting a bad rap with this gang rape case

The thing is, gang rapes and bystander indifference can also happen amongst so-called “nice” kids from “nice” families who go to “nice” schools in and “nice” towns.

That’s what experts and a review of such cases suggest.

What do I mean by “nice”? I think some of you know what I mean. Middle, upper class, possibly suburban, and, often, yes, white.

Richmond, Contra Costa County’s oil-refinery town to the west, is front and center of the 24-hour news cycle for a horrific crime, the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl, committed, allegedly by 10 males, and witnessed by more than 20 others.

During the two-hour attack, outside Richmond High’s homecoming dance, the girl was invited to drink with a group. She collapsed from drinking too much too suddenly. She was then beaten, robbed, stripped naked and repeatedly sexually assaulted. As she was attacked, others stopped, watched, and even took photos with their cell phones. No one intervened, until word reached a group of students and former students watching a movie at a house a few blocks away. Someone finally called 911, and police arrived and broke it up.

Six suspects so far have been arrested, and four were arraigned Thursday on a litany of charges, the San Francisco Chronicle says. Three are juveniles being charged as adults.

“This crime was extremely callous and brutal,” said Deputy District Attorney Dara Cashman. “We’ve been getting expressions of outrage from all over the country.”

Yes, the crime was callous and brutal, and Richmond High, likewise, has been inundated with e-mails, comparing its students to animals. The Contra Costa Times says that young people in Richmond “increasingly feel as though they are on trial themselves, as a national chorus of gawkers judges them based on the inaction of the few who hooted and laughed.”

Two disturbing narratives are going on with this case, and these narratives have repeated themselves over the years in American chronicles. They have also generated plenty of scholarly study.

The first is the mentality—individual and group–of gang rape. The second is the “bystander effect.” This social psychological phenomenon entered the national consciousness following the 1964 stabbing and murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese, near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York in 1964. Initial newspaper accounts say more than three dozen people witnessed her killing but didn’t intervene or call for help. Those initial reports were later found to have been exaggerated, but the case remains a powerful symbol for social anomie.

Running alongside these two narratives is the idea that if something this reprehensible is going to happen among a crowd of teen-agers, it’s probably going to happen in a place like Richmond.

Yes, Richmond has its reputation. For impoverished neighborhoods, remorseless teen assassins, fatherless boys, unwed moms, and school kids psychologically scarred by a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that comes from growing up in violent neighborhoods.

But that’s only part of Richmond. I used to work there. I got to know its tough side, but I also got to know its wealth of cultural history and some of its decent, hard-working residents, of all races, who were trying to raise their kids, take care of their homes, and contribute to their community.

Also, if you start searching around for other cases involving gang rape or the bystander effect, you will find that these situations also arise in “nice” communities, amongst “nice” students at “nice” secondary or college campuses—even elite college campuses. The perpetrators are often members of the same athletic team or fraternity brothers. Sure, Richmond has some neighborhoods, where robberies, shootings and assaults are almost daily occurrences. But according to the experts, the factors involved in that kind of street violence are not necessarily that same conditions that fuel a pack mentality and violent sexual assaults.

Remember the 2007 case involving a group of DeAnza College baseball players? These students from the campus in affluent Cupertino were accused of sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl. She was intoxicated to the point of being comatose, and was saved by three players for the school’s women’s soccer team. Protests erupted over the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office declining to prosecute (pictured above).

And going back to the Kitty Genovese murder: I don’t know much about Kew Gardens in 1964 or now but from what I’ve read about it, I don’t get the impression that it has ever been a tough inner-city kind of neighborhood.

Gang sexual assault and the bystander effect can also take place amongst military units. Abu Ghirab, anyone? And just yesterday, I came across such a story, broken by a young journalist from Lafayette who is now finishing school at New York University. This story, by Rachel Krantz, has been picked up by the Huffington Post and NPR. Her reporting uncovered a culture of sexual harassment, assault, hazing, bystander indifference, and enforced silence taking place amongst a special Navy unit posted in Bahrain.

Peggy Reeves Sanday is a University of Pennsylvania anthropology professor who has studied the factors that give rise to gang rape, and those factors can apply to groups of males from a variety of backgrounds and in a variety of social settings.

In her book, Fraternity Rape Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus, which was re-released in a second edition in 2007. She initially looked at a gang rape case that occurred on her own campus, but also cites incidents at Notre Dame, Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado, Boulder, Morehead State University, and the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

“These and other incidents in secondary schools and gangs demonstrate that the same underlying behavior occurs across the U.S. social spectrum, not just on college campuses,” she wrote. “It is reported in elite and nonelite secondary schools and among street gangs. It is not restricted to whites, blacks, or other ethnic groups.

When she uses the term “fraternity gang rape,” she says she’s using it in its broader sense to mean a group of persons associated by or as if by ties of brotherhood, or any group or class of persons having common purposes and interests.

The commonality, she says, “is male bonding in sex acts in which the males involved aid and abet the activity.”

These situations often occur in party settings, like the case among the DeAnza College baseball players or among the Richmond High gang rape suspects.

“In party settings,” Sandy writes, “boys examine the girls … play the host by plying them with drinks … “

Sanday continues, and describes the group dynamics involved:

“If, as sometimes happens, the behavior mushrooms into group sex, there is always the question of whether the girl consented. The boys may not even consider the possibility that she may have been too drunk too consent. They assume that by drinking she signaled her desire for sex.

“The woman involved is a tool, an object, the centerfold around which boys both test and demonstrate their power and heterosexual desire by performing for one another.

They prove their manhood on a wounded girl who is unable to protest. Her body stands in for the object of desire in porno-staged acts of sexual intercourse that boys often watch together.

“Who she is doesn’t matter and she is quickly forgotten after it’s all over—sloughed off like a used condom. The event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of powerful manhood—in unity against women, one against the

19 thoughts on “Richmond and its youth are getting a bad rap with this gang rape case

  1. One supposes the issue for men in general to come to grips is how to they communicate to the rest of society (younger boys/men as well as girls and women in general) that real power does not arrive from brutalizing others.

    One could argue that brutality presented as entertainment contributes to this mistaken identity seeking, but it is worthwhile to consider that many whom one might know to be brave men, are in fact brave through control of themselves, i.e. they are not always loud and boisterous – they are often silent winners in the competition of man against man.

    So how does the new man of peace archetype become transmitted in a powerful way? That I think is the challenge; sometimes I wonder if Obama is our first representation of it.


  2. My My.

    All these liberal excuses. I'll bet those young men are probably not guilty at all. They were victims of the time, the place, and society at-large.

    Let's just sweep it under the rug, because boys will be boys as every left-wing nut job will tell you.

    SM, you're a jerk!


  3. Studying the dynamics of this brutal crime doesn't make SM a jerk. It reflects an attempt to understand how this could happen. Thank you for researching and writing this up, SM. It's been so ugly to deal with this in our back yard, but it's a worldwide problem and we need to try and find out why it happens so we can try and stop it from happening.


  4. Whether these things happen in affluent white neighborhoods or not, while possibly being an interesting philosophical issue to be discussed in school, is really nothing more than a distraction. Richmond has problems with its youth and this is but yet another example. Regardless of where this occurred, it should be called out as the horrific crime that it is. It is unacceptable that watchers on would do nothing to stop a brutal rape and possibly even egg it on. Richmond and its youth deserve a bad rap for this incident as well as high percentage of youth related crime. If the same thing happened in Moraga or Orinda those places too would deserve a bad rap. Wrong is wrong no matter where it happens.


  5. yes, society's fault, the cops fault for not watching that side of the school, the administrator fault for not patroling around, maybe they ate some twinkies beforehand (like Dan White), maybe they went to the store and bought beer so we should sue the liquor store owner and Budweiser as well. Oh, wait, let's throw the City in there for not providing enough street lights in the area. Certainly don't blame these horrible kids/young adults. It is not their problem. I am sure they came from a single parent home, watched the Roadrunner growing up (so they are now prone to violence) and are currently playing violent video games. Yes, you are correct, society has done these kids wrong – let them out of jail, say sorry, cut them a check for $25 million for their troubles, and send them on their way.


  6. Thanks for bringing this information. Of course, these are strictly observations and are not to be construed as an excuse. A crime is a crime and justice is required for the victims.

    In understanding the nature of the crime, perhaps we can do something to prevent it from occurring again. Additionally, the impact crimes is felt by those who were not even present by creating a perception of imminent threat to everyone.

    SM, I think you are bringing a very good discussion to help in this process. The researchers observations are pretty powerful.


  7. Anon 903a and 955a (are you the same person?)

    Why do you have to tag it as liberal excuses? I am not a liberal and can understand what Soccer Mom was trying to say. Gang or mob mentality is not just limited to Richmond or poor neighborhoods. Wasn't it last year when a boy in Lafayette or Moraga (I forget which) died of alcohol poisoning at a party? One could argue that bystanders let that happen as well.

    You cannot condemn all Richmond kids. I give kudos to the ones who did finally report it. I would also prosecute the ones who showed depraved indifference to the fullest extent of the law.

    So I think you are a jerk for being so closed minded. You are giving us conservatives a bad rep.

    Thank you Soccer Mom for giving us another way to look at this tragic situation.


  8. Hello there,
    I hope it doesn't come across that I'm saying don't hold these defendants accountable. If they are found guilty, they should be. And, maybe legally, the District Attorney's Office is looking for options to charge others who didn't actually beat or assault the girl. Not sure how far that will go.

    A couple additional things. During his 10 o'clock hour yesterday, KGO radio host Ronn Owens was talking about the case, as I was driving to an event. (And then at 11 a.m., NPR's All Things Considered discussed it, too. NPR's was to be a segment on the bystander effect…I had to go into the event, so I didn't hear it.)

    Owens' colleague at KGO e-mailed in to Owens to remind listeners of an East Bay murder, involving an unusual variation on the bystander theme. Copeland remembers it from when he was growing up in the East Bay. It was the famous “River's Edge” case. It involved a 16-year-old in Milpitas who raped and strangled his 14-year-old girlfriend. He then bragged about it and showed her body to at least 13 different people, and her killing went unreported for two days.

    The case was made into a 1986 film.

    Anon 11:06 mentions a more recent “bystander” case that I was tempted to mention. That is the May death of 16-year-old Joseph Loudon, who collapsed at an alcohol-fueled teen party in Orinda.
    The cause of Loudon's death remains a mystery because he only had a small amount of alcohol in him at the time, nowhere near enough, authorities believe, to even make him tipsy, and certainly not enough to cause alcohol poisoning.

    As I've written before, Loudon's family believes that there were kids who were with Joe, or who might know more about what he was doing before he collapsed and what happened after. There might have been a time lag, where someone could have gotten him proper help.

    But a code of silence dropped over Joe's death. In his situation, it might not be the kids who ultimately are responsible for not speaking up. Maybe it's their well-educated, affluent so-called “nice” suburban parents.

    Different kind of crime, Joe's death, than the gang rape of that girl in Richmond. But, if nothing else, it tells me that a group, pack mentality can easily arise among suburban teens, who may have had all the advantages in life–good schools, intact families–and who are supposedly raised with a moral compass. Or not…


  9. My previous post, Anon 1106am, was an attempt to show the similarities of “mob mentality” whether in Richmond or Orinda. Thanks for clearing that up Soccer Mom.

    The 1988 movie “The Accused” with Jodie Foster also touched on this subject.

    In anycase, I am wondering how I or others can help the 15 year old victim of this vicious crime. Has anyone heard of anything?


  10. in joe loudon's case in orinda, would an inhalent show up in the testing? Maybe it was sudden inhalant death, or huffing. why else would a healthy young man, with very little alcohol in his system drop dead?


  11. SM, I appreciate you bringing up this topic. Richmond is part of Contra Costa County, and this news story is on a lot of people's minds. I agree with your premise that gang rape can occur anywhere young men, women and alcohol mix. However, not sure, that the depraved indifference of observers watching an unconscious girl being raped by a host of men can occur anywhere. Think it would take a complete insensitivity to violence (more commonly found in inner-city culture) to walk away and do nothing.


  12. What happened was horrible, but what do you expect when these kids live with brutality 24/7/365? It's inside the home, it's outside the home.

    We move to the nice, lily-White and Asian burbs so we don't have to be exposed to it. Who has to live with it? Poor people. Bottom line. In addition, poverty brings other things such as lack of opportunity for education and jobs.

    I was a juror last year on a gang murder. A kid was murdered by a gang member because he was wearing 49er pants, which were the 'wrong' color of red. The boy was alone, which the gang members call 'slipping.' It's easier for gang members to prey on gang members who are 'slipping' or alone. There is no indication that the boy who was killed was a gang member.

    Think about how many kids have no choice but to enter gangs for protection? We see what happens when you have no protection — you get several bullets shot into your body, then you die bleeding on the sidewalk. Sounds pretty damned bad, doesn't it?

    I don't know what the solution is, but I know the vast majority of these criminals are not born that way, they're made by their environment.

    And, those who condemn without having any compassion for who they were before they became criminals make me want to puke.


  13. I see this as a case where parents have failed to raise their children through neglect. They failed to teach their children morals and how to treat other people.

    This is a dangerous generation of youth where they can't even tell the difference between real life and a game of Grand Theft Auto.

    People say violent video games and movies don't harm children. However, violent video games and movies desensitize people to violence. There are a small number of people who will be influenced to copy these actions and see it as no big deal.

    The internet is filled with tons of free porn that feature gang rapes and violence against women. People often think that their kids are good kids and don't watch porn. The truth is that most kids do watch porn and they are being reinforced that some women do enjoy being gang raped. We live in a highly sexualized culture and the younger generation of people are being told through TV and movies that you are not cool unless you are having sex. Children are pressuring each other into having sex just to be accepted.

    People don't talk about it, but date rapes(acquaintance rape) happen all of the time in suburbia. Just because it doesn't show up in the newspaper doesn't mean you can imagine that it doesn't happen. It happens in every high school.

    I hate to say this, but parents need to install Internet Filtering Software. Children need to be protected from violent pornography that degrades women and promotes sexual violence.


  14. Hip-hop and thug culture combined with indifferent and downright bad parenting and this is what you get. I mostly blame the parents for raising bad kids. And as un-PC as it sounds, there's a reason why some people live in bad areas. Often it's because they are simply flawed people and no matter what society does to help them, they will always be flawed.


  15. Before you lay all of the blame on the parents, keep in mind that some of these parents are working multiple low-paying jobs just to keep a roof over their families' heads and food in their mouths.

    While I'm sure some households are neglectful, some are abusive, some are absent because they can't make ends meat without being gone much of the time.


  16. i was the 9:55 post and the discussion was pretty good until the end of the post when everybody started blaming society again for these THUGS behavior
    really, watching internet porn is now the excuse??. From the 1850's (probably earlier) until 2009, there is always something that can be “blamed” – name a decade and I am sure we can come up with something. THere are plenty of poor kids, kids who watch cartoons, rich kids, rap listeners, jazz listeners, etc who are bad and good kids. These kids are criminals, losers, and jackasses for what they did to this little girl. LETS BLAME THEM! – not the single parent household they grew up in, not the city of Richmond or the teachers. Why do we have to blame everthing/everyone else. There are lots of kids in RIchmond (and other places) that grew up similar to them and are not raping and cheering on a crime. When kids/people start taking responsibility for their own actions, that's when things start to change.


  17. Violent internet pornography adds to the problem. Little things add up and push people over the edge to commit crimes like this. Parents are neglecting their children. I don't care if you have to work several jobs, but you have to make the time to raise your kids. Do you have time to eat, sleep, brush your teeth? You have the time to talk to your children and raise them to be respectful human beings. Excuses do not make up for bad parenting.

    Parents need to keep their children away from bad influences and bad people. They also need to keep them away from sources of violence and that includes porn that glorifies violence against women. It creates an attitude that the degradation of women is no big deal.

    Also, violent video games do indeed make violence more likely. You can deny it all you want, but violent imagery leads to violent thoughts. What kind of parent lets their children play video games where people beat, rape, and kill? Apparently, many parents do and it is enough to push some kids over the edge. Nothing about violent video games makes children smarter or more courteous people.

    Find other ways to keep your kids entertained. Parents with messed up values, raise children with messed up values. The worst part is that the parents don't even think anything is wrong with it. They think that they are such wonderful parents.


  18. No they're not getting a bad rap. This is what having a welfare state does. When people demand the government take care of all their problems and have no sense of responsibility this is what you get. Instead of parenting we have gangs and rap music raising these kids. A liberal utopia!


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