Hargeisa, 24 June 2009 – A couple of days ago I published a brief post from South Africa which reported that one in 4 males admitted to being rapists. But rape in the city is not just happening on a large scale in South Africa. Here in London a recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary highlighted the prevalence of gang rape by young boys. Rape in the City was produced by award winning Sierra Leonean journalist., Sorious Samura who despite being “shot at, spat at and abused” in the making of past documentary’s was still shocked by what he found. During the war in Sierra Leone, Samura had witnessed a gang rape, something he associated with war and not what he expected to find on the streets of London.
I felt so angry and hurt watching these young boys casually denigrate girls with their attitude and words – I find it hard to express my own feelings. Listening to a group of young boys who spoke of a “line up” where a line of boys stand in wait whilst a girl performs oral sex, was appalling. The boys did not even think there was anything wrong in setting up and coercing girls to have sex with them. For them the girls were just trash to be abused. Girls spoke of the horrific experience of being gang raped, one as a punishment for her comments about a friends boyfriend who was a gang leader. She was repeatedly raped by 4 or 5 boys who later called more boys to join in. The attitude of the boys was that it was the girls fault and nothing to do with them and that if a girl was amongst them then she was asking for it. On being questioned about STD’s one boy said he would ‘batter’ any girl that passed on a STD.
In the course of my research I have been shocked to hear victims and witnesses to gang rape talk about the incidence of this crime as if it were just a fact of urban life. Girls are passed around groups of boys. Sometimes these girls initially consent because they want to be popular, but the incident then turns nasty. Sometimes a girl unwittingly walks into a trap, innocently visiting someone’s house to listen to music or watch a film and then discovering that a group of boys are laying in wait. Occasionally the gang rape is used to punish a girl for talking out of turn……….
And yet in the course of my Dispatches investigation I have discovered that gang rape is becoming part of the fabric of life for some young people living in our cities. But it’s not gang rape as you might imagine – it’s not, in most cases, the seizing of girls off the streets by total strangers. It’s happening in homes and at parties between young people who are known to each other, who run in the same crowds. And what’s most disturbing to me is that it’s often just the result of a group of boys deciding to force sex on an unwitting girl, who doesn’t realise that the invitation to someone’s house to watch DVDs or to hang out in the local park is a set up for gang rape. It can happen because a group of boys is attracted to a particular girl or just because she has annoyed one of them.
It is again shocking to learn that gang rape is not even recognised as a separate criminal offence and each rapist is tried as having committed an individual crime. It’s also clear from his report that the police are less than enthusiastic about dealing with rape particularly when it happens in the Black community. Only a few police forces even bothered to respond to his requests for statistics on rapes and rape convictions. The London Metropolitan Police did provide records that showed 108 gang rapes[3 or more rapists] were reported in London in 2008 – from that alone its not exaggerating to state that the actual gang rapes are probably at least double that. Three quarters of the convicted rapists were young black men…
On the face of it, these figures may appear small, but they are nevertheless statistically significant when you consider that nearly three quarters of those convicted were black. Why the incidence should be higher amongst young black men I do not know, but the stats speak for themselves, and on the ground youth workers and community leaders confirmed our conclusions. Sheldon Thomas, a Brixton youth worker, acknowledges that there are a disproportionate number of young black boys involved in gang rape, and it’s something that’s of real concern to him, ‘because we’ve got a situation in our community that needs to be addressed. And I don’t believe that we are addressing it’.
But whilst I would agree that we need to address the disproportionate incidence within the black community, I think it would be wrong to label this as a black issue. What we need is for people from across all communities and public sectors to engage with this issue, and colour must not get in the way of that.
The silence around these crimes allows them to continue with impunity. The silence of the police who do not offer protection to those few young girls and women who report rape. One young girl in the programme reported the rape but had to withdraw the charges after she was threatened, had bottles and objects thrown at her by the rapists. Why was she and her family not protected. How is she supposed to live in the same community where she has to pass these young men daily? Women have always been at the forefront in the movement against violence against women. Is it not about time for men to take a stand against rape? Not just Black men but all men. The responsibility to protect young girls and take an uncompromising stand against misogyny and rape on estates, the streets and in the playground has to come from the local authorities, the police, the schools and the community. .
The boys who commit these crimes are known to the community and to schools and the unless the silence ends they will continue to carry out their despicable acts with impunity and young girls will continue to be forever traumatized and live in fear. We in the Black community need to forget this idea of not “snitching” and reporting to the police. Not only should we be reporting the crimes but insisting and monitoring what the police are doing and making sure they take each rape seriously. All these silences collude with the rapists and abusers and it has to stop. I feel I could say so much more but for the moment I will leave it as is!