Crimes involving sexual assault and violence are always despicable, but there’s something particularly unsettling when they’re done by young people. In the case of three teenage girls from Ottawa, the cruel and dehumanizing acts committed are almost unbelievable. Or rather, it’s easier to imagine a world where teen girls don’t beat children, distribute underage pornography and pimp out kids to be raped by men.

Two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old have begun to stand trial for seventy-four charges. (Yes, really.) Those charges include forcible confinement, theft, sexual assault, assault, human trafficking, abduction, and distribution of child pornography. Sounds like the crimes of some Law & Order: SVU scumbag and not young teenage girls, one of whom was described as “a class valedictorian and the go-to babysitter on her street.”

According to Jezebel, the means by which the girls drew in victims and attacked them were both calculated and horrifying:

The accused allegedly used social media to lure their victims to an apartment in a social housing complex, according to evidence obtained from the girls’ phones and computers. Once the victims arrived, they would strip them, steal their belongings, and then photograph them, beating them if they didn’t comply. The accused would then force them, through threats or physical coercion, to meet with johns. At least two of the victims were raped by johns (some men apparently sent the victims home after realizing they were being prostituted against their will).

Some of the girls report being forced or encouraged to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana — a victim, who was fourteen at the time of her abduction, recalls being stripped and photographed after she passed out drunk and high in a bathtub, while her fifteen-year-old friend was taken into the basement and forced to pose nude. According to reports, the defendants beat the fifteen-year-old so badly that her injuries were still visible in police photographs taken weeks later.

While I’m glad a few men realized that the underage kids — as young as seven, not mistakable for an 18-year-old — they were about to rape were being pimped out against their will, I wish they had done something more than send the kids home, such as call the police and stop these girls from pimping children. What they did wasn’t enough. Plus, underage individuals can’t consent whatsoever so regardless, these guys are still creepy, messed-up people. And there were other “clients” who were aware of the situation, but continued onto rape the victims regardless.

When the girls arrived at the agreed upon locations, there would be johns waiting. Some johns allegedly sent home girls in cabs when they clearly realized the girls were there against their wills. Other johns, like one particular cab driver, reportedly accepted a blowjob and paid one of these teen prostitutes $80—which her teen pimps allegedly took back from her entirely. Another, who allegedly has a “bikini fetish,” dressed one of these captive-teen prostitutes up in a “pink bathing suit and raped her.” Girls were sent home to their parents naked under trench coats.

I realize I keep using the word “horrifying,” but it’s hard to stop in this instance.

The actions of the teenage ring leaders themselves are the most disgusting and unnerving ones here, and they clearly exhibited bravado as a result of torturing and assaulting these kids. One tweeted she was the “female bill gates” and later posted, “Ain’t no problem like a hoe problem. I’ve got hoe problemssss.” It’s the same disturbingly casual attitude participants and bystanders displayed regarding the Steubenville rape victim; the act of watching or causing another’s suffering is somehow seen as simple entertainment or, in this case, a calmly-handled obligation.

Many media sources have said that the girls were under the influence of rap music and a “particularly prostitution-filled episode of 90210” wherein a character has sex for money in order to maintain her lifestyle. But millions of people have seen 90210, millions of people listen to rap music, millions of people see films that involve prostitution; does that mean we all have an excuse if we decide to hurt other people for our benefit?

Again, it is easier to imagine that these girls are somehow not responsible for their actions because it would be so, so much more wonderful to live in a world where 15-year-olds don’t do things like this — or, rather, where nobody does things like this. But to insist that rap music and television are to blame here, that these teenagers didn’t choose to harm several other human beings, altering their lives in a horrible manner…that would be irresponsible and would reduce the experiences of these victims to simple side effects of kids watching the wrong TV shows at night.

Yes, teenagers are not quite adults yet, but there isn’t a magic switch that flips when they turn 18, suddenly giving them consciences and the ability to tell right from wrong. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the teen pimps’ identities were an “open secret,” meaning hundreds of other teens knew about the violence and assaults. But at 15, you should know that forcing another human being to be photographed naked or be sexually assaulted for your monetary gain is wrong; I know I did, and I know I knew that long before the age of 15. The culture that glorifies sexual assault and violence needs to change, yes, but it’s important to show teenagers that traumatizing and harming other human beings is not excusable simply because they’re under 18.

Photo: Shutterstock