Gang-raped at the school dance

The unspeakable happens to a 15-year-old California girl

Published October 27, 2009 7:28PM (EDT)

No matter how many debates we have about whether sexting or offensive T-shirts mean the proverbial sky is falling for our youth, some stories just make you shudder for today's kids: Saturday night, a 15-year-old high school student in Richmond, Calif., was brutalized and gang-raped in front of a group on school premises after she left a homecoming dance.

When police arrived on the scene, they chased several boys off the scene and apprehended 19-year-old Manuel Ortega, a former student of Richmond High School. The 15-year-old girl was found, shirtless and unconscious under a cement picnic table, and was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition. Reports say the assault went on for as long as two hours, with a crowd of up to 15 people watching. Since Saturday, another 15-year-old boy has been arrested for his participation in the crime.

The hows and the whys of a case like this haunt the minds of parents and children countrywide: How did police and school administrators monitoring the dance miss this? When did high school students become so unafraid, so violent? How is this girl going to put her life back together?

At 100,000-plus inhabitants, Richmond isn’t too big, but it’s not too small, either. It could be the setting for an idyllic suburban childhood, or it could be the kind of place where unspeakable things can happen to a 15-year-old girl and the initial outcry fades away after a few months. Perhaps the most haunting question in this story is this: How can we change the way our boys and girls grow up so that gang rape and assault are not a part of their stories? 

By Julia Furlan

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