In 1980, a journalist was raped in a city in the Eastern United States. She was able to identify her assailant, who was successfully prosecuted and sentenced. Decades later, as part of her healing journey, she chose to confront her rapist and in doing so, challenged some long-held theories about rape and the belief that the violation is motivated by power and control. Several other women who suffered the same trauma have also challenged that belief and chosen to focus on the assailant’s family background.
The journalist in question was able to locate her assailant’s mother, and requested a meeting. She discovered that her assailant had died while in prison, and that he had two brothers who had also been incarcerated. During the meeting, the mother told a story of a life of hardship and abuse, and of having been abandoned by her husband, who is believed to have suffered emotional scars that resulted from serving in the Vietnam military conflict. The emotionally traumatized and fatherless boys gravitated toward gangs and engaged in antisocial behavior.
The neighbourhood in which the family lived included a significant proportion of welfare recipients and people engaged in the drug trade. Prior to the era of easy access to state welfare, African American women recorded a lower rate of single motherhood than the rest of the population. After the start of easy access to state welfare, an increasing number of African American women became single mothers.
During the 1970s, a research team from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa undertook a study of the male youth of a dispossessed group of mixed race people. The study revealed that a sub-group known locally as “skolies” were raised mainly by single mothers and had little or no contact with their biological fathers, who were either physically or emotionally absent. As young children, many in this group had suffered some form of severe emotional or physical trauma that they had to cope with themselves, in the absence of nurturing emotional support. As gang members, they committed murder, assault, robbery, and rape. The American journalist who had been raped discovered that her assailant had also suffered severe emotional trauma as a child.
At the present day, there is an epidemic of rape in countries such as South Africa, India, and several Central American countries. During the apartheid era, South Africa engaged in a policy of forced relocation of their non-white citizens, sometimes evicting families with little notice and demolishing their homes with bulldozers. As a result, the children of these families witnessed their parents being rendered powerless, with their fathers no longer able to protect them or even provide for them. Gangs often became the surrogate families for emotionally traumatized boys from formerly healthy and functional families.
During the colonial era of slavery in Jamaica, government authorities supported slave owners in breaking the rebelliousness of slaves by removing the fathers and husbands from traditional extended family environments. Authorities believed that such action would make the younger generation of slaves more compliant and easier to control. At the present day in modern Jamaica, a sizeable percentage of the population lives without any formal family connections, other than the extended families of male-only gangs that have existed for over a century. This segment of the population accounts for much of Jamaica’s violent crime.
During India’s colonial era, ordinary citizens suffered abuse and oppression. That colonial era witnessed three famines, with two having occurred during the latter 19th century and another in 1942 involving some 4 million casualties as the colonial administration ensured that their troops engaged in battle in Europe would receive adequate supplies. At the time, an Indian citizen could be jailed or physically beaten for going to the seashore to pick up a handful of sea salt, which was regarded as the property of the king. Children were often abandoned when a parent was incarcerated for having stolen beach salt.
The colonial office’s partitioning of India into the three nations of India, West Pakistan (Pakistan), and East Pakistan (Bangladesh) resulted in extreme sectarian violence and bloodshed, with thousands of children emotional traumatized by having witnessed their parents being killed or maimed. Many Indian children were abandoned and had to fend for themselves, often in the absence of any emotional support from caring adults. They could find themselves assigned to employment in sweatshops making fabric products, with the owners becoming surrogate parents to these otherwise unwanted or abandoned children.
While incidents of rape may have been ongoing across India for decades, most of it went unreported until the mainstream news media reported on the brutal gang rape of a young medical student. Indian women’s groups that campaign against arranged childhood marriages have revealed that in the lower sects, many girls married to teenage husbands witness their fathers-in-law beat up their sons before raping and sometimes impregnating their daughters-in-law. The offspring of such trauma are at high risk of being abandoned or emotionally traumatized themselves as young children, perhaps setting the stage for them to later commit rape in turn.
Some very disturbing news reports from South Africa involve home invasions, where some invaders hold the husband and sons at gunpoint while gang raping the wife and mother in their presence, or sometimes raping a family’s teenaged daughter. The home invaders are almost consistently of a racial ancestry that had been oppressed and brutalized during the apartheid era and as young children, may have suffered emotional trauma. During some invasions of often well-to-do homes, invaders have on several occasions and without provocation shot and killed the father in front of his wife and children.
During the era of residential schools in Canada, First Nations children suffered emotional trauma, resulting in many seeking relief through alcohol or drug addiction. As parents, many were physically or emotionally unavailable to their offspring, who in turn may have been emotionally traumatized through repeated emotional abandonment. Gang involvement and crime is rampant in some First Nations communities, with an elevated frequency of rape involving First Nations youth. While state welfare is available in First Nations communities as elsewhere in Canada, social problems abound many years after the closing of the last residential schools.
A rape survivor seeking to confront her assailant may have opened the door on a dark secret of how government policies can adversely impact families. While government policies may have directly and indirectly contributed to the family problems that eventually result in incidents of crime, it is unlikely that governments can solve the social problems caused by misguided policies. Over a period of millennia, people have lived in extended family groups that successfully nurtured the development of young children. No government today would formulate policies in support of extended family networks.
An almost model teenager with seemingly great potential, Shaka Senghor had previously lived in a seemingly functional two-parent family. At the age of 17, he was shot four times while his family was breaking apart and unable to provide perhaps badly needed emotional support. His life subsequently deteriorated and by the age of 19, he had been sentenced to prison for having committed a violent crime—an eloquent example of the impact of trauma on a young person.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.