A Facebook video of a 16-year-old girl being sexually assaulted while unconscious at a house party in Providence, Rhode Island, has led to charges against eight men, police said. The girl's mother found the video, recorded it on her cellphone and took the recording to authorities.
Col. Hugh Clements Jr., chief of the Providence police, described the assault as one of the worst he could recall in his 35 years with the department.
"The incident was horrifying, devastating, disturbing on so many levels to this young girl, to her family and to this community," he said at a news conference Wednesday. He said the suspects "should be held to the highest extent of criminal prosecution."
Police Maj. David Lapatin said the mother's discovery of the video helped police charge eight men in connection with the sexual assault of the teen after she lost consciousness at the house party in December.
In March, someone told the girl's mother that a video of her daughter's being sexually assaulted had been posted on Facebook by one of the perpetrators. She found it, recorded it and sent it to police.
"It helped us a lot in identifying a lot of people," Lapatin said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Seven of the men were arrested and charged within the past two weeks.
Six men — Malcolm Baptista, 19; Luis Cabrera, 19; Carlos Chacon, 20; Erving Keith Colon, 25; Luis Luna, 19; and Jose Vargas, 19 — were arrested and charged with assault with intent to commit sexual assault and conspiracy.
A seventh man, Richard Tarell Chester, 20, was arrested and charged with first-degree sexual assault. The eighth, Carlos Vasquez, 19, was being sought on charges of assault with intent to commit sexual assault and conspiracy.
Colon, Vargas and Chester are being held without bail, jail records show. Cabrera, Chacon, Baptista and Luna were released on bail, Lapatin said. They could not immediately be reached for comment.
Police said the suspects are friends.
"They are players that are well-known by members of the Providence Police Department," Clements said.
The teen had been invited to the party at a residence on Glenham Street by two people she knew, Lapatin said. She recalled drinking and smoking marijuana and then feeling unwell, he said. She told police that she went to a bedroom to lie down, that someone made her consume more alcohol and that she then lost consciousness, Lapatin said.
When she awoke, she was naked in the shower, surrounded by eight to 15 men, Lapatin said. Asked Thursday whether additional suspects were being sought, Lapatin said: "The case is not closed by any means."
He said that the nearly two-minute-long video is "sickening to watch" and that detectives had a difficult time getting through it.
"I've seen some bad triple murders of children," said Lapatin, who has worked in law enforcement for 37 years. "And this ranks right up there as one of the horrors we've had in our city."
The teen gave police a statement in December, but the case did not move forward until the Facebook video surfaced.
"There were a lot of suspects," Lapatin said. "She really didn't know who exactly they were. She had nicknames. She had a couple of names."
Through the video, the department's intelligence unit and violent crime task force were able to identify each of the men who have been charged, Lapatin said.
It is not the first assault to appear on Facebook. In 2017, a 15-year-old girl was sexually assaulted by a group of men in a Facebook Live post that was watched by at least 40 people. No one called the police during the broadcast, which was later taken down. Police learned of the attack only when the girl's mother approached the head of the police department in person as he was leaving a police station and showed him screenshots of the assault. Two boys were arrested and charged as juveniles.
A Facebook spokesperson told CNN at the time that the company takes its "responsibility to keep people safe on Facebook very seriously and will remove videos that depict sexual assault and are shared to glorify violence."
"Crimes like this are hideous and we do not allow that kind of content on Facebook," the spokesperson said.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. According to the company's community standards, Facebook removes "content that depicts, threatens or promotes sexual violence, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation, while also allowing space for victims to share their experiences."
Girls and women ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization.
Lapatin and Clements applauded the 16-year-old girl for coming forward with her story.
"I commend her bravery, her courage and her family for sticking by her," Clements said. "It's easy to say, 'Come forward,' but if you're the one who has to move forward on this case and leave a statement and identify people and put your right hand up and testify in court and get grilled by a defense attorney or, in this case, eight defense attorneys — it's easy to say."
"I give her a lot of credit," he added.
Lapatin said the victim has received support from a number of agencies, including Family Services of Rhode Island.
"We are hoping this victim recovers physically and mentally," Lapatin said. "And then, of course, the conviction of all the suspects."