We think of rape as an individual not a group act. It is difficult to grasp its social dimention. We assume that, like sex, it takes place in private. It is difficult enough to face the idea of rape. To envisage gang rape is even harder, it is easier to ignore the distinction, to class it all as rape. Yet the historical origins of rape rest with the gang. The Latin word from which rape derives mean “to seize or carry off”. In ancient times, warring tribes abducted women, who then became the spoils of war.
It is generally believed for men who engage in gang rape to be pathological bullies, fiends or maniacs, and that gang rape is far less common that individual rape. The findings of research refute these assumptions. One of the first American researchers to analyse the characteristics of men reported to the police for rape in Philadelphia found that 43% of the 1292 men operated in pairs of gangs (Amir 1971). 55% raped in gangs and 16% in pairs. Contrary to prior research this study also revealed that 71% of these rapes were planned, rather than being the spontaneous explosion of pent up emotions. Other studies, since this, have supported this finding that gang rapes are more common than previously thought. In one study it was found that 10% of students had attempted rape in episodes involving more than one attacker (Warsaw, 1988).
Gang or pair rape, rather than being pathological, appears to be more about an extreme form of normative masculinity. It is in all-male communities such as the army, adolescent gangs, prison, college fraternities in America and competitive team ports that gang rae generally occurs. In war, gang rape takes on an added dimension and can be an integral tactic of warfare. Whether in peace or war, its function is to enhance male solidarity and domination. It appears to involve a process by which men distance themselves from everything denoting femininity. Women, homosexuals or those seen to be un-macho are the targets. The sexual orientation of many men who rape men and the victims who are raped, contrary to common belief, is heterosexual rather than homosexual (McMullen, 1990).
Humiliating and defiling women seems to enhance male cohesion is some siturations, a point made by Susan Brownmiller (1978), who also argues that male domination is strengthened by denigration and contempt for women. An Australian professor who studied gang rapes suggested that the reason that the gang defiled the female body in other appalling ways, often excretory, was in order to gain or maintain prestige within the group by over-emphasising the values of toughness and disregard for femininity other than as a sexual tool (Brownmuller, 1978)
The enhancement of male solidarity through such violence does raise the question f what constitutes and enhances male-bonding. A number of studies have indicated the mens friendships are generally less personal than womans (Rubin, 1983). Intimacy, the sharing of innermost thoughts and emotions, the main characteristic of female friendship, is not typical of male groups, where bonding is enhanced by posturing, competitiveness, toughness, jokes and risk-taking (Rotundo, 1989). Since one area of competitiveness is sexual, where to “score” is a way to impress friends, this inevitably involves exploiting women. Emphasis on “scoring” and objectifying women are forms of enhancing male power. Through rape, therefore, men can experience ppower, and avoid tenderness and intimacy, which often involve conflict for these men.
Generally men who partake in gang-rape are those who are brought up to believe that to be a man is to be hard and tough, and to keep emotional involvement at bay.