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Someone Cared! Woman Called 911 in Richmond Rape Case

Margarita Vargas, an 18-year-old woman from Richmond, CA (and a graduate of Richmond High) was the lone person who called 911 on the night a teenager was gang raped outside her high school while a homecoming party was still going on. It's alleged that at least 20 people watched and did nothing. Vargas says that her brother-in-law came home and told her he'd seen a woman being raped; it was Vargas who insisted they call the police.

It might seem pretty sad that we're applauding Vargas for doing what people should do, as she said, "without thinking twice," but you'd be surprised how often people are apathetic. So many people are saying, "What do you expect of Richmond?" but I can say, as someone who was grabbed on the streets of San Francisco in broad daylight and ignored when I asked for help — apathy happens everywhere, in all communities. (Just read about the bystander effect.)

Many years ago, I was walking down a busy street in a popular business district in a "good neighborhood" and a man grabbed me inappropriately. I had just bought coffee, so instinctively, I poured it in his face and grabbed onto him, hoping to get him arrested. As I grappled with him, trying to make eye contact with people walking by, riding by on their bikes, driving by, and yelling, "Someone help! This man attacked me!" no one did anything. Eventually, I couldn't hold the man any longer, and he got away, perhaps to assault someone else later. Helping out is rarer than you think, so kudos to Margarita, who even walked over to the school to make sure the police had arrived.

Join The Conversation
meeshee meeshee 7 years
tears welled up in my eyes when i read this (i'm really emotional) but that's just horrible. a girl was being raped and 20 people chose not to say anything???? asaijfafijaf UGH.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
This girl should be praised for doing the right thing. It's sad that nowadays people doing the right thing is so rare that we now celebrate when someone actually does it. Good for her - I hope she stays safe since it seems the friends of these perpetrators view her as guilty of a crime worse than rape.
Yogaforlife Yogaforlife 7 years
My husband once covered a murder in Rockhill, S.C. A group of teenage boys had approached a mentally handicapped homeless guy during the middle of the day and they beat him to death. Video cameras that were mounted on the surrounding buildings showed the people walking on the streets stopped to watch, but nobody helped. Some people ran away to safety. The people who were there said they were afraid to do anything because they didn't know if the boys had guns and would turn on them next. It's sad that because of the prevalance of gun violence and how common violence is becoming, that people are just not motivated to help.
Jmartens Jmartens 7 years
Interesting timing. I am reading Super Freakonomics right now and just finished a chapter that addressed the 1970's murder of a Queens woman where it is commenly believed that 38 people watched her get attacked 3 times before dying. The book actually debunks that myth. People did call, 38 people were not watching and she was attacked twice, not three times. Seems like as a society, we want to think the worst of people but it often just isn't true.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 7 years
I never thought of the fire/help thing as something to practice, I thought it was a metaphor; how people will only respond and listen if they feel they themselves are in danger
sarahcateh sarahcateh 7 years
I live in Chapel Hill, NC and I cannot imagine this happening here. People are always ready to help you. I once saw a person fall off of their bike and literally 4 people immediately ran to the man's aid. Also, recently a TREE (like a 200 year old tree) just uprooted and fell on someone on our campus and immediately everyone in the vicinity rushed over and stabilized her while someone called 911. Is this rare? I don't understand how you COULDN'T help someone that needed it this badly (I do understand the freezing up, but at least you still want to help)
biarose biarose 7 years
I've heard that yell fire instead of help thing.. but I don't know about it.. people might look and be like wtf.. there's no fire?? and just think you were being stupid. I think if you see someone being beaten up or something you should call the police rather than try to intervene yourself. It sucks because the police will take a while to get there.. but there's a high chance of getting seriously hurt if you try and intervene yourself.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 7 years
it's better to yell fire than to scream for help
Niami Niami 7 years
I'm surprised the 20 witnesses didn't put a video up on youtube, since it seems to be the popular thing to do when someone is doing something inappropriate. Especially after many other things have happened where people have used the camera on the phone to post a video instead of using the phone to call 911. Boston is another city where people ignore everything. I was pregnant and grabbed by a man demanding that I give him money while on a busy street. Nobody stopped.
Pistil Pistil 7 years
The bystander effect is one thing (I freeze up in emergency situations too) but I read that people were cheering. For two hours. Ugh. And this sort of thing reminds me of a news story about a local man who tried to help a woman who was being shoved around my two other men. The samaritan was shoved into a parked vehicle and left paralyzed. He never heard from the woman, no one was ever charged. Obviously the woman knew the assailants. There's just no winning. It makes me sick to my stomach, it breaks my heart. Anyway, I've read that if you find yourself in a situation where you need the help of a bystander and no one is stepping forward, you should make eye contact with one individual and ask that person directly for help. Unfortunately TammyO, they probably thought that you were having no problems taking care of the creep yourself. Fortunately, it seems that you are able to take care of yourself when no one else is willing to help.
TammyO TammyO 7 years
Well once while on the subway home from work one night some drunk guy sat next to me and then tried to feel me up. So I hit him and he fell on the floor. People around me just laughed! Then he got back up and sat down again and tried to feel me up, so I punched him knocking him to the floor again and people just laughed like it was the best show in the world, I even made eye contact with a few people, grown men some of them, and they were entertained it seemed as to what would happen next. The drunk guy then attempted to stagger up again for a thrid time and I lost it and just told him to stay on the floor. So he laid there until I got off the train. At least I was lucky, cause it this baffoon had really been hurtful, no one would have come to my rescue.
PirateKitty PirateKitty 7 years
Something similar happened to me in SF too, most people especially big cities just don't want to get involved in any kind of conflict. We all need to help stand up for each other, the more people get away with things like this the more it will happen (obviously) On the other hand i had a scary physical fight with a boyfriend in Hollywood and some men came over to help me.
Studio16 Studio16 7 years
You know what really irks me? That we're celebrating someone who called 911 as a girl was getting gang raped. That's sad to me, because celebrating something means that it's not done often. Calling the police to report a public rape should be human nature. Bless this woman, though. It's people like her who keep this world going.
kia kia 7 years
It is just sick that something like the bystander effect exists. Whether from apathy or fear of being proactive it is sad that you can't count on people to do the right thing if you need help. I just think about that one piece of advice if you are ever in need of help and screaming for it, don't scream "help"... scream "fire" because people are more likely to see if you are o.k.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
I know you mentioned the Midwest earlier, and I have generally experienced that homeless people, street harrassers, etc. are much less aggressive in Midwest cities, as well, Chloe.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
Yeah, Leslie, I noticed the homeless people in San Francisco are very in-your-face. I live in St. Louis, which has unfortunately been #1 in crime for several of the past few years, and there are tons of homeless and low-income people in the city. They'll come up and ask you for money and if you refuse, they might nag a little but are generally harmless. The ones in San Francisco are much more aggressive.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 7 years
Sadly, street harassment is so rampant in D.C. (like it sounds like it is in San Francisco) that seeing a girl get inappropriately grabbed doesn't even surprise me any more. It happens so much. But, I have consciously worked not to become desensitized to it.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 7 years
cko- don't even get me started on the drug problem here. It's all so complicated, between the drug users, the criminals, the mentally ill, the punk kids who hang out there because it's's just a clusterf*** on the streets. You learn to ignore a lot of what goes on, on the streets. Part of the problem of not wanting to be noticed, is not noticing others. I love living here, but there are definite challenges.
mamasitamalita mamasitamalita 7 years
agree with hypnotic -- RUN away.
cko444 cko444 7 years
I witnessed something similar to Tres's story in downtown Chicago a couple of years ago. It was the middle of the day in a busy area and I was grabbing lunch with a male colleague. Suddenly a mentally unbalanced homeless guy grabbed a girl walking a couple of feet ahead of us. I admit that my friend and I froze for a few seconds - me because I was struck with primal fear, both of us because we were shocked and surprised. (I think the girl being harmed was pissed at us for that, but it all happened so fast and I can say that my response was involuntary, not a conscious decision to be a passive bystander.) But of course, we then snapped out of it and called 911 right away - both for the safety of her and and the man who grabbed her. (While the homeless man let go of her quickly, he then went walking right into open traffic.) We were definitely the only ones to do anything. Likewise, a few years back I was walking to the bus stop in my neighborhood at the time, which is residential but near a big commercial area. Lots of young people but plenty of families with kids as well. It was morning rush hour. Splayed out in the middle of the sidewalk was a homeless man, eyes closed, unresponsive to my questions to him as to whether he was ok. I couldn't tell if he was breathing or not but didn't want to get too close or touch him in case he might wake up and be irrational. So I called the cops. When they arrived, they picked him up, shook him conscious (which took a couple of minutes), LAUGHED AT ME for bothering to call (presumably, they found it naive) and drove away. Setting aside the questionable morality of their attitude towards the homeless guy, you'd think they/others would have had more concern if only for the schoolchildren in the neighborhood! Mystifies me to this day. Leslie - just revisited SF and can see your point. Any urban resident develop a thick skin, but I would definitely become more callous if I lived there. As my stories illustrate, Chicago def has a homelessness problem but it's just so different in SF. People are more in-your-face/hostile, and there's definitely more drug casualties.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 7 years
I would have helped you Tre but then I would have said what are you nuts. You should have tossed the coffee in his face and ran for your life. It's unfortunate but a lot of people wont help until they deem a situation life threatening or you look seriously injured. If they see you holding your own they'll say oh she's all right and wont bother.
leslievanhouten leslievanhouten 7 years
SF is notoriously unfriendly. I've lived here for ten years and people tend to become...callous. For me, when I was way younger and cuter, I just got sick of catcalls on the street, homeless people asking for change, even canvassers asking to sign some petition. I learned to just put my headphones on, walk fast and not smile. That however is no excuse for not helping someone in need. I hope this girl gets a police detail. In street culture, she's a snitch, which in their twisted logic, is worse than the actually criminals.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 7 years
Wow, Tres, that is an awful story. I can honestly say I would not think twice about helping someone in that sort of situation. I noticed when I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago that people there seem abnormally unfriendly (at least compared to Midwestern cities), but still, you would think that people would have the decency to help a woman being attacked. Good for Margarita for doing the right thing.
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