By Gloria Steinem and Lauren Wolfe
Gangs of young men rape girls. They also sometimes act as pimps that seduce a girl, then subject her to gang rape or otherwise insist that she sexually service gang members. Some girls are so desperate for acceptance and so convinced by sexual abuse that they have no other value: they see this as inevitable. Thanks to the testimony of a brave female former member of a London gang in Peckham, Guardian readers learned these terrible truths. Certainly, London is not alone in this phenomenon.
But as long as we focus only on the victims, we will never end this victimisation. Think about it: in a report on antisemitism or racism, most of the focus is on the antisemites or the racists – so why not on the sexists who victimise girls and women?
We fear this is because we accept such behaviour as inevitable, almost as much as those girls do – as if “boys will be boys” – and that is a libel on men. In fact, the average man is not a rapist. In the US, and probably in your country, too, one in five women has been sexually assaulted in her lifetime, but the average rapist has attacked 14 times.
The use of sexualised violence on the streets of Britain or America is the result of the cult of masculinity – some men become addicted to it and feel they have no identity without it. This cult is a drug pushed by gangs and the culture of wars in order to make men act violently and risk their lives against their own self-interest as human beings. That’s why what happens with gangs on the streets of your cities and ours most resembles what happens in wartime. Sociologically, psychologically and practically, the gangs of London and New York may be different in degree, but not in kind. We can only uncover and cure this wound to humanity – especially to the female half of humanity, whose control and subjugation is the most basic requirement of the cult of masculinity – if we report on and pay attention to the victimiser, not just the victim.
For example, in both city streets and war zones, men are far more likely to rape in groups. They feel they must uphold the cult of masculinity in the eyes of other men. As one soldier in Democratic Republic of Congo reported to Swedish researchers: “You feel you have to do something bad. You mix it all: sabotage, women, stealing, rip the clothes off, killing.” Military officers sometimes order men to rape as proof of loyalty and shared culpability. Many militiamen in the thick forests of Congo tell researchers that they rape even when they don’t want to. The consequences of not committing sexualised violence, they say, would be a severe beating by their superiors. It is a chain of control, held together by steely links of pain.