As more suspects are arrested and more information about the savage crime of the gang-rape of the 15-year-old California girl surfaces, the media has done follow-up stories ranging from community outrage, questions of school safety, lack of parental involvement, the state of American youth and even angles investigating the so-called “bystander effect” – why people watched the attack but didn’t intervene. Though media have done a good job following this story and getting people to reflect on their moral consciousness, they have yet to raise the issue that plagues and threatens women’s lives everyday.
The community denounced violence last week at a rally in front of the school, but this was a specific crime targeting a specific gender – this was an act of violence that targeted a woman. Every minute three women are raped in the U.S. Teenage girls are especially at risk. According to a 2000 National Crime Survey, girls ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape of sexual assault.
Could it considered a gender-based hate crime? Just last week President Obama signed the landmark hate crime legislation to extend existing federal hate crimes laws beyond the narrow scope of protected federal activities and also includes – for the first time – violent crimes committed on the basis of actual of perceived gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity. Prosecutors could use the new hate crime legislation to go after the alleged rapists. The vicious nature of the crime and the possible collaboration and planning of the gang rape could propel prosecutors to use the new legislation.
The 15-year-old girl was preyed upon by a group of men and boys because of her gender. A plan to further weaken and enhance her vulnerability was orchestrated by giving her alcohol. Then she was reportedly brutally beaten and sexually assaulted for more than two hours by as many as 10 men and teens, while a reported 20 or more bystanders watched, laughed, photographed, videotaped and cheered on as the attack took place.
Like most violence, violence against women is not accidental – it has a purpose. It is used as a weapon of war, intimidation, the ultimate power and control, breaking of the family and community, and denying women’s status. It is import for the media, the Richmond community, and the nation to identify crimes like the gang-rape as an act of violence against women because we need to make better connections on how to respond and prevent crimes like this from happening. The focus on prevention is what gives crimes against women their defining characteristics, and a chance for law enforcement, parents and communities to respond better.
A statement written by the victim was released last night. In it she says, “Violence is always the wrong choice. We realize people are angry about this but let the anger cause change, change that is necessary to keep our children, our neighbors and our friends safe.” We must change the way we look and think about safety for our girls and what we are doing or not doing to protect them.