What causes two or more men to join forces for the purpose of raping a woman or child? Is it a desire for power and control? Sexual satisfaction? The desire to humiliate or degrade “something” they don’t even consider human?
This is a question that scholars have struggled with and I have no desire to come up with a definitive answer here. However, it is imperative that we discuss this topic, even though it is extremely sensitive, because more and more women throughout the world are experiencing this form of violence and it must stop.
Similar to other forms of rape, gang rape often causes survivors to feel humiliation, ridicule, worthlessness, and a sense of powerlessness. Further, even though relatively few cases of gang rape are reported, many women and girls throughout the world have experienced this horror. And while some view this sort of horrific sexual violence as something that happens in “other” countries or only during armed conflicts, two recent North American cases indicate that this is clearly not always the case.
On May 30, 2010, a young girl hanged herself in her family’s garage in Winnipeg. Hours earlier, Pauline Berens, 15, told her boyfriend that she and two of her friends (age 13 and 14) had been raped the week before by three older boys. Since Pauline’s tragic death, Winnipeg police have begun investigating the allegations of sexual assault, however, there is fear that the case may never be solved because other alleged victims have not come forward and there is little information for police to go on. According to the limited information that has come forward, Pauline and her friends had been drinking vodka and listening to music with three older boys, aged 17 and 18. When they woke up 10 hours later, naked, they were allegedly told that they had been “gangbanged.” As in many other cases of sexual assault, Pauline encouraged her friends to stay silent about what had happened due to fears that they would get reputations as “little sluts.” It was only after Pauline died that information about the alleged gang rape began to surface.
The fact that many women and girls do not report cases of sexual assault lends credence to the idea that a “rape mythology” exists in our society. In other words, many people believe that women and girls can avoid being raped or sexually assaulted if they only avoid parties with alcohol, dress conservatively, travel in groups, and avoid being outside after dark. With these beliefs, many women internalize the implicit message that sexual assault is something they can control and that if they are raped then they did something to deserve it. These beliefs in turn create feelings of shame that inhibit many women and girls from coming forward and reporting what has happened to them. Further, this mythology also has an affect on males, some of whom may justify their actions and make excuses, believing the phrase that “boys will be boys” or the popular “no just means more beer.” Unfortunately, with this double standard, men who assault women are often relieved of their personal responsibility while survivors are forced to protect themselves from unwanted advances and then blamed if they are unable to do so. This type of behaviour and way of thinking are completely unacceptable. Boys must be taught at a young age that women and girls deserve to be treated with dignity and they must also be taught about boundaries, communication, and how to respect their date’s wishes, no matter what. We must continue to stress that no actually does mean no.
Two men and three male teenagers charged with gang-raping a seven-year-old girl
On March 28, 2010, a crime was reported that shocked inhabitants of Trenton, New Jersey. A 15-year-old girl allegedly sold her seven-year-old stepsister during a party at an apartment building known to police for being the site of numerous crimes. Through cooperation from the community, police were able to arrest and charge two men and three teenaged boys with the gang-rape of this little girl. Gregory Joseph Leary, 20, and Timear Lewis, 19, were arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment. The boys, aged 13, 14, 17, could not be named due to their ages; however, they face the same changes. Mercer County Prosecutor announced that prosecutors would likely request the courts try all five as adults.
How could something like this happen? According to the police, the 15-year-old girl went to a party with some men at the apartment building and her younger sister came along. The older girl allegedly sold sex to men and boys at the party. She then allegedly took money to let them touch her stepsister. The touching then turned more violent and at least seven men allegedly raped the seven-year-old. For her actions, the 15-year-old has been charged with promoting prostitution, aggravated sexual assault, and other crimes. After her arrest, she was placed in juvenile detention.
According to Mayor Doug Palmer, the family received counselling in the aftermath of the attack. However, he also stressed that the police would not stop investigating until every person involved in the rape was arrested. Further, the mayor said the family may be permanently relocated away from the city. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the crime, as well as the reputation for crime and violence that the neighbourhood holds, it has been difficult for police to convince people to come forward and report everything that they know. Many neighbours fear retaliation from gangs in the area.
It is my fervent hope that the men convicted of gang-raping this little girl are punished to the fullest extent of the law. A message must be sent that anyone who sexually abuses woman or a child will go to prison for a very long time. There is absolutely no mitigating factor that could justify the actions of these men and boys. The fact that we live in a world where seven-year-old girls are considered objects of sexual pleasure, at the violent expense of their victim, should alarm everyone. But our response can not stop at simple shock and outrage. We must pressure our governments to ensure that sexual violence is a crime severely punished instead of ignored and minimized. We must advocate for adequate funding for women and children in violent situations. Finally, we must begin an open and honest dialogue about an uncomfortable topic that has remained in the shadows for far too long.
“Gang Rape.” Pandora’s Project (2007). http://www.pandys.org/articles/gangrape.html (accessed July 23, 2010).
Tobi Cohen. “Experts not surprised alleged gang-rape victims not coming forward.” Postmedia News (July 19, 2010).
http://www.canada.com/news/Experts+surprised+alleged+gang+rape+victims+coming+forward/3297336/story.html (accessed July 23, 2010).
Angela Delli Santi and Beth DeFalco. “Five charged in gang-rape of 7-year-old girl in New Jersey.” The Associated Press (April 3, 2010). http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/five-charged-in-gang-rape-of-7-year-old-girl-in-new-jersey/article1522246/ (accessed July 23, 2010).