Saturday, June 20, 2009

Sexual Violence as Male Bonding

SocProf addressed this over on The Global Sociology Blog already but I thought I’d add in my two cents. A recent study conducted by the South African Medical Research Council found that 27.6% of the men they sampled (N = 1,738) admitted to having raped a woman or girl in their lifetime.

The study included men from different race and age backgrounds, who lived in rural and urban areas, and noted the tendency of men to gang rape as a form of male bonding. The sample was relatively young. IRIN reported some other alarming statistics from the study.

Of the 27.6 percent of men who had committed rape, "23.2 percent of men said they had raped two to three women, 8.4 percent had raped four to five women, 7.1 percent said they had raped six to 10, and 7.7 percent said they had raped more than 10 women or girls," the report said.

"Asked about their age at the first time they had forced a woman or girl into sex, 9.8 percent said they were under 10 years old, 16.4 percent were 10-14 years old, 46.5 percent were 15-19 years old, 18.6 percent were 20-24 years old, 6.9 percent were 25-29 years old, and 1.9 percent were 30 or older."

Note that first sentence from the second paragraph, about 10% of those who admitted committing rape did so the first time before age 10. Of course conducting research for the sake of research can just be flat out depressing. The study revealed some interesting correlation’s that may help to push for solutions to this violent public health concern.

"Men who disclosed having raped were significantly more likely to have engaged in a range of other risky sexual behaviours. They were more likely to have had more than 20 sexual partners, transactional sex, sex with a prostitute, heavy alcohol consumption, to have been physically violent towards a partner, raped a man, and not to have used a condom consistently in the past year."

Significant factors in the high incidence of rape were parent absenteeism, childhood trauma, bullying, teasing and "deeply embedded ideas about South African manhood ... which can be predominantly addressed through strategies of apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators" the report said.

South Africa’s History of Apartheid

The issue of parent absenteeism merits additional commentary. A 2007 documentary carried out by the BBC World Service titled “Sexual Violence in South Africa” quotes researcher Rachael Jewkes, a leading scholar in the area of women’s sexual victimization and who helped conduct the first study cited above.

(Starting at 4:50 of the podcast):

One feature of South Africa is that we have quite a large proportion of the population who have been massively traumatized through the history of the country and through growing up in apartheid. And one of the things that apartheid did was it systematically destroy family life … the past law system meant that you couldn’t reside in an urban area unless you had a job. And often that meant that a man would be able to get a pass and come work in an urban area but he wouldn’t be able to bring his family with him. And so this lead to the destruction of family life.

And very often they would end up breaking ties with that family because of the untenable situation … And one of the things we know from South Africa, as well as internationally, is that men who have been traumatized in childhood, whether experiencing severe physical violence or sexual abuse, but also emotional abuse and neglect, and physical neglect are much more likely to perpetrate rape when they get older.

Another interviewee from the podcast who is male spoke to the legacy of apartheid in South Africa on men.

(Starting from 10:00 of the podcast):

Apartheid created a thinking and a feeling that men, in particular black men, that you were nothing. You’re subhuman beings. And in most cases, black men would be left with pain, would be left with anger. And more often than not, not anger, but pain is translated into violent behavior or violent tendencies.

Thus, as the mass exploitation of people occurs, the violence trickles down with women and girls of color feeling the added exploitation at the hands of men from their own and other ethnic groups. Clearly, apartheid had its ill effects in adding to an already severely patriarchal culture by disrupting stable family life. As stress increased, ideas about how to achieve appropriate masculinity became more corrosive, furthering women’s abuse.

Male Bonding through Sexual Violence in North America…

Of course this does not only happen in Africa or those “other foreign, non-western” areas. Philippe Bourgois’s classic ethnography, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio clearly illustrates the way colonized men of color in America’s urban ghettoes also exploit women, using gang rape as a way to bond with each other and assert a violent masculinity.

And it’s not just poor men of color who engage in this sexually violent means of bonding. In all-male or predominantly-male groups, men frequently exploit women (or girls) as a means of becoming a more cohesive group. This happens far too frequently in athletics, increasingly from high school up to the professional ranks.

Jeff Benedict’s book, Public Heroes, Private Felons documents the different ways American college and professional athletes have utilized the criminal justice system and public opinion to get away with both physical and sexual abuse of women. The same thing happens in Canada with hockey stars (see Laura Robinson’s Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport), and in Australia among rugby footballers.

…And in Australia

A recent documentary carried out by the Australian Broadcasting Company vividly demonstrates how the culture of rugby influences too many players to objectify women and then use them to build cohesion among their male peer group.

Sarah Ferguson’s excellent report, “Code of Silence” still has two interviews up that point to the problematic nature of male athletes' socialization and how it perpetuates women’s victimization. From an interview with Charmyne Palavi, who was raped by an Australian rugby player:

(Starting at 3:26 of the video):

Interviewer: Do you see that this, or hear about it, this issue of there being three players, four players, or a couple watching or what’s going on there?

Palavi: I don’t know of many girls that knowingly go with a player, thinking that all the other players are gonna come in. They’ll go with a player thinking that it’s gonna be just them and the player. And they get back to the hotel room, or when they get back to that player’s house, cause they never really know where they’re going to, [the other players] either come into the room while it’s happening. And you know, what’s a girl supposed to do? … To think that they need these guys around them. Where’s the whole one on one sexual activity? [They have] Power in numbers.

Also interviewed for the piece was Steve Burraston, CEO of the Newcastle Knights, who chimes in on why such a high proportion of athletes (or in this case rugby players) engage in violent and/or drug-related behaviors.

(Starting at 12:10 of the video):

We have to recognize that we attract young, aggressive, risk-taking males. That’s what we want. When we run ‘em on the field, we want them to be aggressive. They’ve gotta make tackles. They’ve gotta be fearless. Then we went ‘em to do things that other people don’t do….they’ve gotta take certain risks on the field. So we attract an aggressive, young, risk-taking male.

We give him a shower, put a suit on him and then say now we want you to be a submissive male. Here we want you to go out there and not have any problems. It’s very difficult to do that, so you have to keep educating people. You have to keep talking to them. You have to keep putting them through programs. You’ve gotta make sure you have a stringent structure, that you’ve got the right policies and procedures. And certainly, that you take the right action and you give the right messages.

As these different cases from across the globe show, although men and boys are socialized in very different contexts, their socialization can have similar patriarchal tendencies and result in the systematic sexual victimization of women and girls. In South Africa, where collective violence was the most extensive for the entire society, the degree that men from various demographics rape is accordingly the highest across society.

However, even in high-income countries like Canada, the United States, and Australia, there are certain contexts, such as sports (namely in hyper-masculine sports), where male bonding occurs at a disproportionately high level through gang rape. And among the men in these groups who do not sexually exploit women, there is almost always a code of silence (or humor) that protects the male perpetrators.

Not to mention, sports media constantly bombards fans with images of women as sexual objects. Being a fickle fan of mixed martial arts, it is impossible not to notice the incessant ring girls and contests that try and find the next “beauty queen” who will sell magazines, ultimately negating any intellectual and athletic talents she may possess with images that highlight sex appeal over substance.

Is There an Answer?

So what can be done? Jackson Katz argues prevention needs to begin with the re-socialization of boys. He offers Ten Things Men Can Do To Prevent Gender Violence. Listed below is #10, but reading the entire list is recommended.

Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don't involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men's programs. Lead by example.

(Photo courtesy of IRIN)
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  1. Gang rape: Is it a race issue?

    A high proportion of such attacks appears to be carried out by young black men, according to Metropolitan Police statistics. Sorious Samura investigates this horrendous crime – and what it says about Britain today (6.21.09; The Independent)

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