Police have arrested six people so far for the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside the Richmond, Calif., high school homecoming dance. As many as two dozen people reportedly watched the assault—some laughing and joking—but didn't call police. Should the bystanders be punished, too?
The onlookers should go to jail—but won't: It should be a crime to stand idly by while a 15-year-old girl is beaten and raped, says blogger Matthew Yglesias. But it's not—California law only holds witnesses accountable for failing to report a crime if the victim is 14 or younger. "In other words, in this case those who stood by and did nothing cannot prosecuted."
"Did witnesses who watched gang rape and did nothing break the law?"
Not all the witnesses are in the clear: Some of these people were more than just bystanders, says Michael B. Farrell in The Christian Science Monitor. Some bystanders reportedly recorded the Richmond High gang rape on cell phones, and others cheered. If that's true, those people "could be charged as accomplices under California law even if they didn't physically assault the victim."
"Homecoming rape: When do bystanders become accomplices?"
Punishing bystanders isn't the only way to help: Making laws more strict might compel more bystanders to call police, says Kate Dailey in Newsweek, but many educators think "bystander education"—not fear of punishment—is the way to get young people like the Richmond High gang rape bystanders to do the right thing. Teach kids in advance that they can do something to help, and many will make the right choice.
"Bystanders no more: Teaching kids to respond to violent crime"