Earlier this month, the Prime Minister of Canada expressed shock and dismay over the alleged gang rape and suicide of a teenage girl in Nova Scotia, Rehtaeh Parsons. This is not the first case of its kind to have occurred involving teenage boys and a girl at a party where alcohol was served. The events that surround this case make several statements about the society in which we live and the manner in which our society is governed. In the USA, a group of teenage boys who were members of a high school football team raped an inebriated teenage girl and were prosecuted for their offence.
About a decade ago, a gang rape occurred in Johannesburg, South Africa and police apprehended the gang. While in prison, each gang member was interviewed individually and asked about their feeling during the rape. Each reported having felt dirty, degraded and ashamed of having performed the deed, not even enjoying the act. When asked to explain their participation in the attack on a defenseless woman, each answered, “to look good in front of their friends who were watching!” Their friends were present and cheered them on as each took his turn committing the violation.
India recently witnessed two high profile cases of gang rape, where women were sober and accompanied by a trusted male companion whom the gangs assaulted. The rapists in India and South Africa lived in societies where social norms and government policy bestowed privileges on some citizens that were denied to other citizens. India had for ages observed a caste system, while during an earlier era, South Africa enforced racial segregation. Perhaps it is ironic that the rapists were from the lower social strata and may have seen themselves as having been oppressed, even powerless before social and political norms.
Lack of Role Models
In his landmark treatise entitled Man and His Symbols, Dr. Karl Gustav Jung advised that early societies recognized the need of older boys and young men “to prove themselves,” and provided a series of challenges or rites of initiation for them to achieve such ends. Success meant recognition, validation, acknowledgment and status from their peers and also from their community or society. Jung cautioned that societies that fail to provide appropriate and challenging rites of passage for adolescent males to “prove themselves” may lead groups of boys to devise their own alternative rites of passage to gain acceptance, recognition and validation from their peers.
Psychologists Drs. Sam Osherson and Barry Gordon have suggested that younger boys may be hard-wired to seek acceptance, approval and validation from older males who become their role models. The behaviour of an adult male role model in the early lives of young boys serves as a guide to appropriate and acceptable behaviour in the family, community and society. In emotionally healthy families, boys learn by example from older, more mature adult male role models when it comes to appropriate interaction with women, including matters that pertain to the emotional and physical aspects of intimacy and sexuality.
In some cases and some countries, school systems have been able to provide appropriate adult male role models in the lives of young boys from single-parent, mother-only homes. Male teachers are placed in charge of boys’ classes. But such practices are rare outside the private school system. Perhaps to enforce a policy that promotes opportunities for women, state-run school systems train and hire more women than men as teachers. In many districts, school systems seem to have become more pro-girl, even at the expense of boys, many of whom may live in fatherless homes.
Desperately Seeking Status
Incidents involving groups of teenage boys having raped a teenage girl, recorded the event and posted it on social media suggests that they were seeking status and recognition from their peers. Their behaviour may be a symptom of a problem in a society where state social and welfare policy undermines traditional family values and the role of religion and spiritual guidance in the lives of the younger generation. The teenage gang members were all products of a state-created socio-economic environment that may initially have had noble intentions with regard to the family, but have had the exact opposite effect.
In two high profile cases that gained news media attention, girls were alleged to have been inebriated during the assault. In a third high profile case from California, the girl was sober when a group of three teenage boys overpowered her. In all three cases, the gangs of boys targeted a seemingly weaker person whom they could easily overpower in order to fulfill some urge. They recorded the events to gain the attention of their peers who then targeted the victim of the assault for further emotional bullying, perhaps to exert power over the girl or to gain status, acceptance and approval from their peers in turn.
The news media has reported several incidents of teen targets being bullied to the point of suicide. A related news documentary reported on teachers who resigned as a result of being repeatedly taunted and bullied by students who ultimately achieved recognition and acknowledgement from their peers as a result. Another news report showed a mass gathering of teens attending an initiation ceremony during which teens willingly degraded themselves to gain the acceptance of a peer group. When parents were away, some teens either hosted parties or “crashed” into the home of another teen’s absent parents, then trashed the home.
The rape and suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons may be the tip of the iceberg of problems involving a segment of the teen population. One factor these cases have in common is compulsory attendance at state run “educational” institutions that may operate like prisons, robbing them of the joy of learning and numbing their minds with often irrelevant and useless information. The unmet emotional needs of a significant percentage of the teen population may be propelling them to seek acknowledgement, acceptance, validation, approval and recognition from peers, perhaps the unintended result of state policy aimed at undermining the traditional family.
State officials have previously attempted to address the problem of school-related bullying with zero-tolerance policies. Several star students were suspended for such infractions as having a plastic butter knife in their lunch boxes. Bullies also learned how to manipulate the system to their advantage, with bullying targets being suspended from school. While elected officials express concern over recent tragic incidents of teen bullying, they may be reluctant to address the root cause of the problem: failed state policy developed and implemented at an earlier time.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.