Has Gang Rape Been Popularized by Porn?

gang rape culture

 

Is it just me or does anyone else think there has been an awful lot of gang rape in the news lately? I don’t mean to make light of a horrific act, but it seems as if every day I open up the newspaper to find another case of a woman saying she has been forced to engage in sexual activity with multiple men at the same time.

The University of Minnesota recently issued an eighty-page report about an incident on the morning of September 2nd that involved ten men and one woman. They claim it was consensual. She says it was not. The police have declined to pursue an investigation.

Last month a former Vanderbilt football player was sentenced to seventeen years in prison for encouraging his teammates to rape an unconscious woman. According to the New York Post:

Surveillance video showed Brandon Vandenburg helping to carry the woman into his dorm room, where testimony showed he handed out condoms to three of his teammates and egged them on. The 23-year-old former player also took cellphone videos of the June 2013 dorm room rape and emailed them to friends in California while the crime was ongoing.

An investigation at Baylor University in October revealed that there have been at least four claims of gang rapes in recent years. In June, members of a fraternity at Ramapo College in New Jersey were indicted for sexual assault and videotaping the assault of a nineteen-year-old New Jersey woman. She recently filed a federal lawsuit against the fraternity and the college alleging that the fraternity members played “rock-paper-scissors” to “determine who would get to sexually assault her.”

The United States does not keep official statistics on gang rapes (and rape statistics have been inflated in the past) so it’s difficult to know whether or not this is a real trend. It’s also true that at least some of these gang assaults have been proven false—as with the allegations made in a 2014 Rolling Stone article against fraternity members at the University of Virginia.

But as someone who has followed stories about the sexual atmosphere on campus and the sexual attitudes among young people for almost two decades, it seems, at least anecdotally, that something new is going on.

In a culture that is drowning in stories about sex, these tales of group sex and gang rape seem still to have the ability to stand out. If a girl at UVA had merely claimed one man assaulted her, it’s hard to imagine that it would have received nearly as much coverage.

But it’s also true that many of these incidents are actually happening. What gives fraternity members or football players the idea that it would be fun to all have sex with the same woman? Aren’t football players and other athletes precisely the people on campus who are not supposed to have trouble getting dates (or sex)? Why are they, well, sharing? And in some of the cases, the women seem to be engaging in these acts consensually. What would possess supposedly empowered young American women in the twenty-first century to want to be passed around like a party favor by multiple men? The fact that so many of the women (and men) are heavily intoxicated suggests that many of them do not.

But at least part of the answer no doubt lies in pornography, which is so ubiquitous that it is now a major influence on young people’s sexual preferences and expectations. According to Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls & Sex, porn standards now so fully define early sexual experience that girls are expected to be clean-shaven down there and teenagers now simply refer to anal sex as “fifth base.”

Surely the rise of group sex and gang rape incidents (or at least of their visibility) is due in part to what these kids are watching. It’s also why so many of these incidents involve someone videotaping them. They aren’t just assaults; they are lurid stunts intended for broadcast to a wider audience.

If we’re going to prevent future assaults, we can’t ignore the role that pornography plays in normalizing such behavior. Obviously the assailants bear responsibility for their actions, but the distortion and deterioration of relations between the sexes can’t be overlooked.

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  • Lucas_D

    Depends. Do you think that Homicide: Life on the Street popularizes murder, Mortal Kombat normalizes bare-handed decapitations, and Bugs Bunny teaches children to blow each other up with dynamite?

    Because if those sound like silly and overly sensationalist claims, then so does this one.

    • victor

      Actually, Lucas, they may sound like silly claims to you, but that’s because you’ve become desensitized to its effect on you. Most people these days are desensitized to the effect that what they are viewing is having on them. So, when you mention those things, as someone who is sensitive to the murder and violence in TV shows and movies, I do feel they play a part in the way people treat each other these days. Absolutely! Until you can feel again, you’ll continue thinking that people can be irresponsible with what they watch and it won’t affect them.

  • victor

    I agree Naomi.