Gang violence has been on the increase in South Africa, and manifests itself in many different types of violence, one of which is gang rape.
According to the essay Gang Rape and the Culture of Violence in South Africa, gang rape – which has been termed “jackrolling” in SA – is a distinctive form of sexual assault in that “no brutality, no threat even, would be necessary to subdue the victim”.
While rape is committed by men of all ages, another distinctive feature of gang rape is that much of the time it’s committed by fairly young men. And, in most cases, it’s committed in the open in that perpetrators don’t bother to hide their identities.
Nomfundo Mogapi, executive director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, says one must first understand the rape itself and the psychology around that before trying to understand the psychology of gang culture (collective violence), and then combine the two.
BLAMING THE VICTIM
“Where rape is concerned, the stereotypes around it are what continue to perpetuate this ongoing violence, and interestingly enough, some of these stereotypes are held by men and women,” Mogapi says. “Some of these include the tendency to blame the victim, [the belief that] that women deserve it, and everything else that patriarchal norms teach society.”
People often blame victims of rape, saying they must have done something to arouse the perpetrator or cause them to feel drawn to the rape victim. A lot of this has to do with how the crime is classified. Mogapi says it’s important that rape isn’t seen as a sexual crime but rather as a crime of power, where one person wants to assert their power over another. This perspective will help in curbing the practice of victim blaming.
“If somebody is hijacked, no one asks, ‘Why would you buy an expensive car when you know criminals will be attracted to it?’ But for some reason, people are okay with saying this sort of thing to a rape victim – the problem starts there.”
Mogapi says a lot of research has been conducted into the psychology of collective violence. She outlines four important factors:
Sense of anonymity
Being in a group distances an individual from the crime. “‘Because the group is doing it, at least I can’t take personal responsibility,’” is how Mogapi defines the reasoning behind group participation. “People in a group usually do things they wouldn’t usually do as individuals.”
“There could also be issues of peer pressure, and because of the very rigid masculine culture in South Africa, we see a lot of this. The mentality is, ‘If you can get a girl, then you’re a better man.’ This mentality is often used to pressurise men.”
Sense of power
“When people think of rape, they think it’s a sexual crime, and studies have shown over and over again that it’s a crime of power. It’s problematic that it’s seen as a crime of power and that [rape] is used to silence, control and dominate women.”
Sense of belonging
“Often the longing for a sense of belonging and a sense of family can lead to getting involved in a gang because it gives them this, especially if one doesn’t have that at home,” Mogapi explains.
Gang rape is a combination of gang violence and rape. According to the essay mentioned above, in 1993, about 40% of all rapists had engaged in gang rape, and in the USA, every four incidents of rape was a gang rape.
The first step to curbing this epidemic in South Africa is to change our mindsets towards the issue of rape, and to educate the next generation about what it is and why it is not okay. Like Mogapi stressed, rape is a crime of power and not a sexual crime – changing our mindset starts there.