A 15-year-old girl was gang-raped a week ago today outside her California school while a homecoming dance was going on inside.

Police say up to 20 people were standing around watching the incident go on for more than two hours and no one lifted a finger to help this girl. Nothing was done until someone overheard two of the people who watched it happen discussing it later.

Witnesses took photos. They laughed. No one called the police. Not one person out of 20 had a conscience that spoke to them in two and a half hours.

Five people have been arrested so far for participating in the crime. Unfortunately, though, none of the bystanders can be arrested. A law in California allows arrests for people who do not report a crime against a child but it defines a child as under age 14. The victim in this case was 15.

The law should be changed. It should not matter whether the person was 15 or 50. If a violent crime is being committed, like rape, witnesses should be required to report it. Obviously they should not get involved and put themselves in danger, but they should have the courage to press three numbers on a cell phone and tell the dispatcher that a crime is underway.

So many questions arise from this incident: Where were the adults? Why was this girl outside the dance? How did the kids inside keep hearing about what was going on outside and why did they feel compelled to go and watch?

Psychologists are saying that it could be the result of the bystander effect, which states that the larger the number of people involved in a situation, the less will get done. Some may think that reporting the crime is unnecessary while others may think someone else already reported it. In a way, I understand not reporting it because they thought someone else already had. But believing that this crime occurred for more than two hours and spectators still thought someone else had reported it is a stretch.

Other experts are saying that witnesses can become detached, a problem especially common in youth who they say are too young to comprehend what victimization means. This incident involved teen-agers, not 8-year-olds. They can fully comprehend when someone is being victimized.

A criminal justice professor at Temple University told CNN that “a lot of kids don’t know how to express anger and they are curious when anger is expressed.” Again, teen-agers are more than capable of understanding anger. Some of them may not know exactly how to control it, but they know full well what anger is.

As high school kids, they were well aware that what was happening to this girl was wrong. It should have been reported. The fact that it was not makes them all culpable.

— Melissa Smith

Assistant Managing Editor

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