It’s been a week and two days since a 15-year-old girl was gang raped and beaten in the courtyard of Richmond High by as many as 10 boys, ages 15 through 19, after she left the homecoming dance.
John O’Connell, one of the Mission’s two high schools, had its own dance on Friday. While nobody left the dance raped or barely conscious, students and teachers said they can’t stop thinking about the Richmond incident.
Last Thursday, most teachers spent advisory time — a 38-minute weekly time slot allotted to non-academic issues — discussing the gang rape.
Principal Richard Duber said the staff plans to spend more time discussing the incident. Some of the responses raised concerns among teachers, he said.
“Teachers have said a 38-minute time frame isn’t enough to deal with the important issues kids have,” said Duber.
One of the most disturbing elements of the Richmond rape case was the large group of students who stood by and watched, he said.
“That’s part of what I think isn’t as nice about being human,” he said. “But how do you find a voice to speak up and say what you see is not ok?” These are the kinds of discussions that students and faculty will continue to have, he said.
The small student body of 600 allows for closer interaction between kids and educators. In comparison, Richmond High has 1,600 students.
Duber called John O’Connell an inner-city school, while Richmond High has more of a sprawling, suburban feel. The high school on Folsom Street just north of 20th Street has only one point of entrance and exit. A security guard sits at a child’s desk with a sign-in sheet and jokes with students as they shuffle down the hallways. Four security guards work at the school.
“When our kids leave school, they are literally on the streets of the Mission,” Duber said. “We always tell the kids to leave together and think about safety.”
Seniors who are doing well in their classes are the only students allowed to leave the campus during lunch.
“We know the neighborhood can be very dangerous,” Duber said, adding that the high school is safe. In fact, he said, it’s a neutral zone with hardly any gang activity.
But even so, Duber remembers a student who was shot last summer returning to school in the fall semester only to shrug off his trauma with “things like this happen.”
Duber said with the school’s resources he was able to connect the young man and his family to therapy and counseling services.
The school’s Wellness Center, staffed with six to 10 adults, provides full-time therapists who deal with issues ranging from reproductive health to gang violence.
But in his four years at John O’Connell, Duber has never heard of anything as shocking as the gang rape of the 15-year-old Richmond High student. Neither has Janet Hines, director of the Child and Adolescent Support Advocacy and Resource Center, which serves the city’s children and adolescents who have been sexually or physically abused or who have witnessed severe violence.
The 24-hour center at SF General Hospital collaborates with Child Protective Services, the police department and the district attorney to investigate crimes against youth. Interviews are conducted at the hospital’s multidisciplinary interview center, where forensic staff question adolescents behind a one-way mirror.
Funded by the Department of Public Health, the center also sends its staff out to schools to give safety talks.
“Luckily, we’ve never had anything that bad,” said Hines, adding that District Attorney Kamala Harris has done a good job around child abuse issues.
At the dance on Friday, students were chaperoned by Duber, the dean, teachers, parents, and a security guard at the school’s entrance.
When students left the party and plunged into a pre-Halloween night in the heart of the Mission, they were bid farewell with Duber’s message: “Think what you’re doing, go together, and look out after each other.”