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Will Richmond High Gang Rape Gawkers Go Free?

(AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Photo: The picnic area at Richmond High School in Richmond, Calif. where police said a 15-year-old girl was allegedly raped and beaten.

RICHMOND, Calif. (CBS/AP) For two hours they watched the alleged gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside her high school homecoming dance.

They pointed. They laughed. They took pictures, say investigators.

But no one among the approximately two dozen gawkers called the police.

Now it is looking like they might not face any criminal responsibility, even after four teens, so far, face up to life in prison for the rape.

It is a crime in California to fail to report a crime against a child, according to the state's 1999 Sherrice Iverson Child Victim Protection Act.

But the bill only applies to victims who are 14 or younger.

The victim in the Richmond gang rape case is 15.

Dara Cashman, head of the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office sex crimes unit, said all is not lost and told the Contra Costa Times, a Bay area newspaper, that those who witnessed the alleged rape and did not report it could face aiding and abetting charges, if it can be proven that their actions facilitated or goaded the perpetrator.

It is not clear if those charges are being considered in this case.

It was not until a former student, who heard two males bragging about the attack, that police received a tip on the case. Officers found the victim semiconscious and naked from the waist down near a picnic table on the Richmond High School campus.

(AP Images)
Police cars sit parked outside Richmond High School on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009, in Richmond, Calif.

Margarita Vargas, who was watching television Saturday night with others at her home two blocks from the school campus, told a newspaper that she reported the assault as soon as she heard about it. The newspaper did not say whether Vargas was a student at the school.

"They think it's cool," Vargas said of those gathered at the alleged rape. "They weren't raised to respect girls."

Police Lieutenant Mark Gagan said that a "mob mentality" had taken over the night of the dance and that it only became worse as students spread the news, over time, that "rape was going on."

"More people came to see, and some actually participated."

When individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present, law enforcement term the non-action the "bystander effect" or "Genovese syndrome."

Kitty Genovese was a 24-year-old New Yorker, who, after finishing the late shift at a Queens bar in 1964, was randomly attacked while walking home.

A subsequent report in The New York Times laid out the story of 38 witnesses, many portrayed as watching the homicide from front row seats in their high-rise apartments as Genovese cried in vain for her life.

"For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens," The Times article began. ".... Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead."

A recent investigation by ABC News of the old case suggests that very few of the thirty-eight actually witnessed the crime. And a group of neighbors actually helped to finally catch the assailant.

There's no word yet if heroes will emerge from this case. Details of the witnesses in the Richmond California gang rape case are still unclear.

"I still cannot get my head around the fact that numerous people either watched, walked away or participated in her assault," police Lt. Gagan said.

"This just gets worse and worse the more you dig into it."

Police hope a $20,000 reward will bring more people forward with information.

October 29, 2009 - Richmond High School Gang-Rape: 4 Teens Charged Could Face Life in Prison
October 28, 2009 - Richmond High School Gang Rape: Three More Arrests in Homecoming Attack
October 27, 2009 - Richmond High School Gang-Rape in California: Others Watched and Did Nothing, Say Cops

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