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The Story of an Alleged Gang Rape in Brooklyn That Keeps Getting Darker

A lurid allegation of group sexual assault on a playground is shining a spotlight on a corner of NYC that often makes headlines for gun violence but rarely grips the public imagination.
January 13, 2016, 6:00pm
The Osborn playground in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and the site of an alleged gang rape. AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

On Thursday night at around 9 PM, a teenaged woman and her father grabbed some beers and headed into Osborn Playground in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. What happened next has shocked the community, stymied police, and implicated five teenagers in what initially sounded like a horrific gang rape but might have actually been even more depraved.

If nothing else, the lurid tale has shined a sustained spotlight on a corner of the city that often makes headlines for gun violence but rarely grips the public imagination.

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As the New York Times reported, the original story went something like this: The 18-year-old was allegedly raped in turn by five men after they showed up brandishing a gun, chasing her father off. Employees at two nearby delis apparently refused to lend the panicked father—who may have been drunk to the point of incoherence—a phone.

Ultimately, police said it took almost 20 minutes for the man to find two cops in their squad car, which was odd because the neighborhood where the alleged attack took place was lined with both residential units and businesses. The NYPD also came under fire for waiting until Saturday night to report the crime to the public, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has since apologized for the nearly 48-hour delay, citing a paucity of information.

As that information has emerged, the story has shifted dramatically. When two of the suspects, ages 14 and 15, were turned over to authorities by their parents, and two more, ages 15 and 17, were arrested, they said that the group sex was consensual. What's more, two of the suspects claimed that the woman was having sex with her father when they first saw her in the playground, as the Times later reported.

Detectives are currently investigating those statements. Meanwhile, the four suspects were all arraigned on Tuesday, and a fifth was apprehended at school the same day. The fact that the victim's father might have been involved, and that the two were allegedly drinking together, "does not mean she was not a victim of a pretty horrific attack," as one anonymous law enforcement official told the Times. "What appeared to have happened is that the father may have put her in that compromised position." Still, as the suspects' defense lawyers pointed out at their arraignment, the young men were not picked out of police lineups or identified via photographs, and police still have not been able to find the gun that both the victim and her father said was used during the incident.

Reports of rape were up 6.3 percent across New York City last year, though officials are estimating about 20 percent of those alleged incidents took place in previous years. (For perspective, in 2011, just 1 percent of reported rapes concerned incidents from previous years.) The 73rd police precinct, which includes Brownsville, saw 34 rapes in 2015, according to NYPD statistics.

As interest in (and horror over) the case mounts, the suspects—each of whom has been charged with first-degree rape—are maintaining their innocence. On Tuesday, a Times reporter knocked on the door of a 15-year-old suspect in the case. Standing on their doorstep, the suspect's brother and mother showed the journalist a clip they said proved the sex was consensual. It was fewer than 30 seconds long, and it's unclear how it might bolster the defendant's claims. "If you said yeah, it's lit, like, you know what I mean," an unidentified male could be heard saying in the clip. "I could tell you a freak."

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