03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Would You Have Called?

All victims of violent crimes deserve our help. As a society, what kind of message are we sending when we say it is okay to stand by and not make a call when someone is being brutally victimized over and over again?

On October 24th, 2009 a young woman, only 16 tender years of age, left her high school homecoming dance in Richmond California to get a ride from her father when she joined some young men and began drinking with them. They soon began their assault. Several of the men beat her, robbed her, and repeatedly raped her while people looked on.

Police think there were up to 10 attackers and anywhere from 15 to 20 people stopping to watch. Authorities said witnesses took photos, laughed and some joined in as the girl was repeatedly assaulted. People came and went and no one called the police. The assault lasted for over 2 hours.

Instead of snapping photos with their cell phones, witnesses should have been using them to call for help. AB 984, will appropriately expand an existing investigatory tool, and will hold people accountable for allowing this and similar terrible attacks to go uninterrupted.

Under current California law, had the victim of this rape been under 14 years of age, observers who failed to report could have been charged with a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine up to $1,500, imprisonment for up to 6 months, or both. The victim in this case was 16, which means that the witnesses who did nothing can't be held accountable.

There is a problem with a law when witnesses to a crime of rape or murder are not held accountable for something as simple as using a telephone to call the police.

My bill, The Witness Responsibility Act (AB 984), eliminates the arbitrary requirement that a victim be under 14 years of age. All victims of violent crime deserve our help.

It is appalling that this young girl in Richmond was left to suffer instead of being saved from hours of torment and pain. As a former Deputy District Attorney, I know her healing will take years and the loving support of friends and family. Her faith and trust in humanity may never be the same.

Victim's rights groups and law enforcement understand why this simple change in California law is so important.

Harriet Salarno, Chair of Crime Victims United of California said:

AB 984 removes a senseless provision that limits the reporting requirement by individuals witnessing violent crimes against victims to only those victims under the age of 14. In the case of the Richmond rape, had any one of the witnesses called the police, the two hour attack could have been halted much sooner. Victims of violent crime should be able to expect that regardless of one's age, witnesses to their crimes will report the atrocities to law enforcement and provide the relevant information to assist in apprehending the victim's attacker(s).

"AB 984 closes this loophole, protecting innocent crime victims and gives law enforcement the ability to arrest and bring to justice perpetrators of violent crime, such as the Richmond rape case," said Timothy Yaryan, Legislative Counsel to the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

So, wouldn't you have called?