Facebook Live Gang Rape: Should Those Who Watched It Face Charges? Authorities say that about 40 people may have watched the rapes of a 15-year-old girl that were streamed on the social media platform — and that none of them reported the crimes.


Should Viewers Of Facebook Live Gang Rape Face Charges?

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Chicago Police have made two arrests now in the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl that was streamed on Facebook Live. Both suspects are teenage boys. The police are looking for more accomplices. As many as 40 people may have watched the rapes on Facebook as it happened. None of those witnesses reported them to police. And that is raising ethical and legal questions. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Chicago Police say the 15-year-old victim knew one of her attackers. He lured her to a home on the city's west side, where as many as six young men brutally raped her. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson...


EDDIE JOHNSON: Due to the graphic content that I observed, I don't want to go into the detail of what was on the video. But I want to tell you the young men responsible, they should be ashamed of themselves. They've humiliated themselves, humiliated their families. And now they're going to be held accountable for what they did.

SCHAPER: They'll be held accountable, Johnson says, because some of the suspects shot video of the vicious assault and one streamed it live on Facebook, where about 40 people watched.


JOHNSON: It just disgusts me that people would look at those videos and not pick up the phone and dial 911. So it makes you wonder where are we going, what are we doing as a society?

SCHAPER: After the girl's mother received screenshots of the assault, community activist Andrew Holmes was able to track down the full video, and he turned it over to police. He says he thinks anyone who viewed the assaults and did not report them should be charged.

ANDREW HOLMES: It tells me that they really don't give a damn, you know, what happens to a human being. You got 40-some people watching it and enjoying it. To me, you was enjoying it 'cause you didn't take the time to turn it in.

SCHAPER: But legal experts say proving criminal charges against those who viewed the video might be difficult. Stephanie LaCambra is a criminal defense attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

STEPHANIE LACAMBRA: Generally, ordinary citizens are not legally required to report a crime or to do anything to stop it. There is no general duty to be a good Samaritan.

SCHAPER: There are some exceptions, though. Many states require people in certain jobs and fields to report suspicions of child abuse and some other crimes, but LaCambra says reporting what anyone witnesses in the digital space is even more nuanced. First of all, prosecutors would have to prove that whoever's account was used to view a stream was in fact the person who viewed it, and that the individual knew the crime was actually real.

LACAMBRA: You don't know if the video you're watching has been Photoshopped or if the details you're viewing are in fact true.

SCHAPER: Law professor Allen Shoenberger at Loyola University of Chicago agrees that there is no general rule requiring viewers of a crime in a live stream to report it. But he says in this case because the victim is 15, child pornography laws may apply.

ALLEN SHOENBERGER: The federal statute, for example, makes it quite clear that possessing those images is grounds for culpability - criminal culpability - but also just watching them is grounds for criminal culpability.

SCHAPER: The teenagers already arrested in the case are charged with both the manufacture and dissemination of child pornography in addition to aggravated criminal sexual assault. Chicago Police say they haven't yet decided if they'll pursue charges against anyone who watched the assault online, saying they're first focusing on finding the rest of those who attacked the teenage girl. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.


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