Sunday, December 13, 2009

Does Anybody Care Anymore? The Rise of Desensitized Voyeurism


by Shardae Jobson


The enigmatic concept that is human nature may be our greatest indication of who we are and desire as human beings; so why do we sometimes feel it has failed us? An instance of when human nature was challenged occurred on October 24, as a very violent act committed against a young girl outside of her high school dance sparked anger and shock as to the psychological sense of how it could have happened, and what it says about aspects of our culture today. What happened in Richmond, California that October night to a fifteen year old girl—gang raped, beaten and robbed outside of her high school dance—was so much more than announcing someone’s level of nerve or “the audacity…”

The emotional aftermath of this horror is a case of severely questioning the nature of human beings because the actions that took place were so inhumane. So quick to call out celebrities when they do wrong, but God forbid when an occurrence of similar or worse circumstances evolve in front of our eyes, cellular phones are used to call 911—not to apparently video record and take pictures of the cries and beatings of a teenage girl. The Richmond incident is immoral and disgusting. How is it that in a group of a dozen plus no one did a damn thing to help the girl, yet virtually everyone who heard of this incident the next day shuddered and shook their heads in sadness, indicating they would have done something—at least had made that simple phone call or run for help.

In that evil enclave of rapists and on-lookers on Richmond High ground, they were completely heartless. A Good Samaritan would not appear until a girl who attends the same high school as the victim became aware of the situation and made that call. What kind of day and age are we in when making a call to 911 is of course a civic act but suddenly a rare and noble one?

This incident evoked discussions on CNN panels, to sudden conversations and in classrooms about the presence of a sub-culture of insensitivity, and is becoming a fateful trend in today’s youth. This sub-culture is inclusive and happening amongst all American social classes and communities. The big question asked everywhere was why? Why did the girl become a show? How could the rapists and the watchers do what they had done? The problem here is not the media, music, or video games. The situation is too deep for those menial reasons. Everyone involved knew what they were doing. These rapists weren’t oblivious, they aren’t so uneducated…they just didn’t care.

Following the rape, tension-filled phrases were used to describe the situation like “diffusion of responsibility”, the “bystander effect”, and the ludicrous campaign of “stop snitchin” which is a dangerous agreement made by individuals to keep quiet about criminal behavior. Meaningless methods like these may have added to the two and a half hours rape from occurring, and the cause of suddenly worrying if your next door neighbor would give you a glass of water if you were dying of thirst. Stoic actions and ridiculous excuses looking for justification are fueling nothing more than a growing fire of an “I didn’t do it” culture. The affect is essentially mental urban decay.

The fifteen year old girl was described by those who know her as somewhat of an outcast. Some reports had information that the attack started when she left her dance to wait for her father outside to take her home and was offered alcohol from a boy she considered a friend (also fifteen years old). Once drunk and in an abandoned area of the high school, the violence began and she was taken advantage of. The lasting effect on this young girl will be tumultuous off and on for years to come (as she even had to flown to the hospital to cure injuries), and her life now comparable to the true story and film adaptation of The Accused; and Richmond, a town that already didn’t reek of great education and safe streets, viewed as a rough place taking a turn for the malevolent.

(bench of where the crime took place)


This case is more sad and unbelievable than anything. What is difficult is how to solve this from occurring again as the bigger issues are the emotional and psychological factors. There may not be an answer to the desensitized action and voyeurism that went down on October 24. The mental state of the rapists and so called bystanders (as some even so grossly participated) exceeds even the smartest comprehension. There is no conflict theory here as to whether the culprits had difficulty in being a man or being a solidified bastard. This was all in a state of mind of no concern, no charity, apparently having nothing to lose. “How” and “why” may be the only qualified questions because they are the only statements we can understand and make any sense of efficiently.

The situation is broad and extends past just being a town incident; it is a look into our culture and emotional place. Our culture and emotions because while this happened in Richmond, this could have been any high school, your town, your sister, best friend, a person you care about. This problem executes the concept of macrosociology, where what occurs in one area is a reflection of society as a whole.

The school even initially declared the attack an isolated incident, not relative to the high school, which is sad and their diffusion of some responsibility. A student and friend of the victim, Kami Baker, spoke to the local (California) media and said, “The officers [at the dance]—not only did they not check the IDs of those students or men sitting outside of our campus, but the security officers who are employed here did nothing about it. This story has disrupted the school’s morale greatly, including my own. When I started here, I felt extremely unsafe and so did she”. It is a sad moment when pride becomes a heady mixture of ignorance and arrogance as the school originally displayed. The complicity in this manner was shown to be the most dangerous act next to the violence.

The criminals re-introduced the reality of on-going school violence and the at times nefarious male bravado—when a male nearly transforms into some kind of devil and views women as recyclable objects to be roughed with at his discretion. These rapists have made regular, good guys look bad just by gender association, and women once again belittled damsels. In interviews from the local news with students in Richmond, it was revealed there was a level of misogyny that young men sometimes carried with them because they were not taught at a young age that women and girls were not meant to be disrespected.

In a November 2nd opinion piece written for CNN.com, “Ask the Right Question About Gang Rape”, Professor Ron Avi Pastor argued that the main argument of the Richmond gang rape wasn’t exactly morality, but instead suggested that “the most powerful form of prevention is believing that students can help stop crime from happening. A possible reason [the rape wasn’t stop is because] they were not educated on how to stop it. Students also need to feel confident that they can report trouble without fear of retribution from their peers for being called a snitch”.

Pastor was coming from a good place, but his suggestion is not enough. Exactly how aggressively must people under the age of twenty one be “taught” how to dial 911, go in search for help, or be a good person? Exactly how much of a flight or fight condition was it for the rapists and those who assumed someone already made a call? Do we really need Morals 101? It is a true possibility that (unfortunately), evil and carelessness may be inherited in human nature—but this varies from person to person and their interactions because is being evil really inherit in human beings? This is intensely debatable and requires ambitious research, but incidents such as the Richmond gang rape do not provide any hope for positive image of human beings overall intentions (in 2009). Yes, the actions of the rapists should only be seen as a reflection of their decisions, but we can analyze this incident on what it says about in general because so many were involved in this extreme act of violence.

Earlier, by suggesting the media, music, video games and a tough environment were less important factors in this scenario, Pastor saw more deliberate training in how to react in hostile situations as a possible remedy in improving the dire conditions of Richmond. It’s all relative and more complicated as to why no one cared until Margarita Vargas did. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis (in sociology, first theorized in the 19th century) states that one’s experience derives from the environment they reside which influences how they see the world. It is unfortunate that for young people in Richmond, there is a stigma established in knowing cruel ambivalence will not be punished. When did we become devoid of knowing right and wrong, the epitome of common sense, in matters like this?

The reality of the Richmond violence, like any overt, horrible act of violence, is the concern of what is going on psychologically. What could have provoked that crowd, that borderline mob of twelve plus to rape and abuse? For sure if she did drink the alcohol she was given, maybe she was seeking a little more fun with someone she considered a friend. For sure this does not make what the rapists and bystanders did in any way acceptable. If it wasn’t this girl, it likely would have been another and that future victim could just as well be sober. Remember, this girl was found by the police unconscious. The severity of what they did is unbelievable.

Seven arrests have been made since October, and the police continue to search for all parties involved with January 21 as the first court date on the matter. The town of Richmond is working on what do next with security, promoting anti-violence and the courage to speak up. While some of the rapists are still minors, clearly they were brazen enough to turn sex into violence should be treated as depraved adults, as posted October 29 on CNN.com, the juveniles in this case will charged as adults. Juveniles can be charged as adults as young as fourteen to ten years of age. On PBS’ Frontline: Juvenile Justice Stats, juveniles tried as adults received longer sentences than those in the juvenile system though they could still serve only a percentage of their punishment. Back in 1996, a Texas research noticed that for all felonies—except for rape—only 27% of the time was served in most cases and was shorter in comparison to the time in juvenile facilities.

In the days following the attack, anger was still in the air as the San Francisco Chronicle reported that some wanted to “[exact] vigilante violence” towards the criminals and associated members.

The phenomenon of this sub-culture of insensitivity has been investigated before in the media through social experiments. On the ABC newsmagazine show 20/20, for a limited run, there was a documentary style segment What Would You Do. On the show, premeditated acts and actors placed everyday people (unknowingly) in awkward, sometimes very uncomfortable situations to see if morals, values and character were in place when truly needed. “Scenes” on the show included capturing the reactions on prejudice and unfair treatment to the disabled. On an interview for The Tyra Banks Show, host John Quinones said that often times many wanted to help in situations, but were afraid to do so, and some actually had no disregard. However, Quinones stated that a decent percentage stood up for what was right when it was their duty to become the accidental hero.

The sad truth is that despite the horrified reactions of this girl’s life changing moment, atrocities like this will continue with an estimated one out of every three girls a rape victim. Earlier this year, while a high profile account of domestic abuse was flooded with sympathy and outrage, another boyfriend, a person somewhere, will willingly bruise the face of his or her lover with punches and slaps on the face, and who knows what else. This is a mortifying cycle, but again, what can be done?


This victim’s heinous experience has become the lesson of the day, as conversely the rapists may have a new, ostracized life awaiting them, when it comes to violence, will they ever learn? After the young girl was released from the hospital, a statement from her parents, through a pastor from the First Presbyterian Church (in Richmond), said: “If you need to express your outrage, please channel your anger through positive action”.

The purpose of this article is to bring justice through words, to raise awareness that while so many of are fortunate to never have experienced such trauma as the victim did, so many others are not; and to enforce the obvious and maniacal coward-ness of the rapists and sick audience. To the girl who may never read this article, she’ll understand that what happened will affect her for years to come but will not define her.


Read more: @ newsweek.com, "Bystanders No More: Teaching Kids to Respond to Violent Crime" by Kate Dailey/Johnathan Cornblatt

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