California Gang Rape Revisited

Dear Engaged Bystander, On October 25, “as many as 20 people were involved in or stood and watched the gang rape of a 15 year old girl outside a California high school homecoming dance...” 

This is the first sentence of a CNN story posted two days after this horrific crime.  It is hard to take this in. Even with all of the years and all of the stories I have in my head, I am outraged and as hard as I try, I can’t understand how this could happen. How 20 people could be involved in some way, could see what was going on, and choose to do nothing. If you continue to read the story, you read that the assault lasted for 2 and ½ hours. And this was on school property during a homecoming dance, an event that is about bringing people together and sponsored by their school. 

I continue to follow this story to see what I can learn and to try to understand how this horror unfolded during a school homecoming event.   There has been nothing posted for a long time, yet I know the issue is very much alive for this community. 
Everything that I have learned about working with sexually abusive adolescents is that there is some story that leads to this choice to sexually abuse. What was the story that led not just one, but up to 20 kids raping and/or observe the rape of an innocent girl?
In the papers, I only read about the horror of this incident – and it leaves me with too many questions. But I believe that these questions will help us understand how this could have unfolded. I do believe that if we ask questions, we may be able to learn something to prevent this from being perpetrated again. 

“We have the curriculum, we have the staff, and it’s free… We are here, we are four blocks away. Use us, use us, use us.”

Rhonda James,
Executive Director of the RCC. 
As I continue to read, I also start to find some amazing parts of this story as well. These stories of hope are buried in the local paper or at the end of a news story. But they are there. These include: 


  • Margarita Vargas, 18, a former Richmond high student, called 911 from her house, after her brother-in-law heard two guys bragging about that attack. Vargas was honored by the Richmond City Council for her "act of humanity."
  • outpouring of letters and help that is being offered to the victim. 
  • offer by the rape crisis center for help (see quote) and the offer from the Neighborhood Patrol to help patrol the area during campus events. 
  • Commitments from the city schools, police, and community organizations and to make community safety a coordinated city-wide effort
I will continue to read and continue to try to make sense of this tragedy. In a letter read by her family pastor during a vigil, the victim urged the community to remain calm and "let that anger cause change." We all have a lot to learn here and if we are going to “let our anger cause change” we need to share what people have done, how people did take action, and how the individual and communities begin to work together towards a stronger and safer community. 



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Submitted by David Lee on

Thanks for the blog on this case from a bystander perspective. Here is a blog that highlighted how the local rape crisis center in Richmond used a bystander frame. And here is an article from a Richmond blog on how MyStrength could be a positive bystander approach.