Gang rape is considered a particularly horrific crime, not because of how society views rape, which is not always in a negative light, but because it deglamorizes rape and strips away any pretense that the behavior was consensual, romantic, or simply the result of someone who let himself get out of control. That the rape in this scenario involved an 11-year-old girl seems almost impossible to explain. While some of the offenders have histories of sexual violence against minors, others of them do not. In fact, while this act was committed against a child, and the circulation of the videos of the rape speaks to child pornography and initially brings to mind the issue of pedophilia, there really is not sufficient reason to believe that any of the assailants were actually pedophiles. While the girl's age may have made her an easier target for victimization, there does not seem to be evidence that her age otherwise contributed to her assault. Instead, the series of gang rapes seems to be removed from the sexual; sex was the means of inflicting the violence, but the purpose of the assaults was to perpetuate violence against a victim.
There is something about Wolfgang and Ferracuti's culture of violence that is repugnant to people who consider themselves to be egalitarian. The theories suggest that certain cultures are more prone to encourage violence, and those theories are so strongly reminiscent of old arguments that sub-groups, particularly African-American males, were inherently more violent than others, that they are difficult to embrace. However, when confronted with an example like this one, it becomes difficult to ignore the idea that some subcultures do embrace a culture of violence in a way that mainstream society does not.
To consider the idea of a culture of violence, the first example to consider is not the fact that 19 individual African-American males were accused of participating in and filming the violent gang rape of a child. Whether these men and boys are found to be factually guilty, there is substantial evidence that a large number of them did participate in these assaults; they filmed themselves raping this little girl. Instead, the first thing to focus on is the fact that a subset of the community was aware of these assaults and did nothing to intervene in them. The perpetrators circulated videos of them assaulting this child; yet the assaults continued over several months before anyone ever reported the assaults to the authorities. Moreover, on one occasion a family member of one of the assailants came home during the assault, and the assault was paused so that they could move the victim to an abandoned trailer, but there is no evidence that this family member, who was no accused of participating in the assaults, did anything to stop these men from assaulting a child. It is as if the community put on blinders and ignored that a child was being assaulted. Moreover, there was no reason for the community to protect these assailants. There was no pay-off in allowing them to continue their crimes. They stood to gain nothing from allowing an eleven-year-old child to be assaulted. That they stood by and did nothing to stop that crime certainly suggests a subculture of violence.
Of course, that subculture of violence extends beyond the assailants and those people who could almost be considered accomplices, the people who viewed and forwarded films of a child being raped; it extends to the entire community. The eleven-year-old victim received enough credible death threats and other threats of violence that Child Protective Services removed her from her home and her family relocated to another town. Instead of rallying to protect a child victim, much of the community rallied to support the assailants. In fact, when activist Quannell X came to speak to the community about the assault, his speech was full of very violent rhetoric. While he decried the fact that some of the men who were arrested should not have been charged, he also encouraged the crowd to go after the girl's parents. The level of violence directed at the parents of a rape victim could be considered acceptable by a community is extremely puzzling; there is no reason to doubt that the girl was victimized or to suggest that the parents have somehow falsified evidence against the perpetrators. Instead, it is a classic example of blaming-the-victim, and redirecting anger towards the victim, rather than the perpetrator. If the subculture were not already conditioned towards violence, it seems unlikely that this technique would be successful.
Of course, it is important to point out that African-Americans males are not the only social group that are believed to embrace violence as a cultural norm. People who are raised in the south, particularly southern males, are also raised with a cultural acceptance of violence that does not exist in other places in the United States. Therefore, the fact that one of the articles reported that white males, with shaved heads, were riding around, armed, in the back of pickup trucks, threatening African-Americans after the assault, is simply another example of the culture of violence.
While the act itself may have primarily been violent, one must also consider the sexual element of the crime. There are many violent people in this world that would be repulsed by the idea of sex, even sex that was "consensual" on the surface, with an eleven-year-old. Something about the subgroup of men who committed this assault normalized the idea of sex with a minor. For that reason, it seems like differential association theory may be able to explain some of why the crime occurred. Differential association theory suggests that people learn their behavior from their intimate social groups, and is not overly concerned with the underlying psychological motives that might make them commit a certain crime. In other words, for a group of men to gang rape a small child, one would assume that they are pedophiles. Differential association theory suggests that one does not need to look at why these men became criminals, but instead focus attention on how they became criminals. These men learned motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes from their social group. Because of this shared learning, in which each criminal act committed by a member of the social subgroup reinforces the idea that criminal behavior is acceptable, it becomes easier for each member of the group to commit a crime.
Individually, it is unlikely that many of these assailants would have chosen to sexually assault an eleven-year-old girl. The societal taboos against sex with such a young child are extremely strong, and a man contemplating such an assault has to be aware of the likelihood that he will be treated very harshly by society for doing such an act. However, while the number of assailants may have made the crime more horrific for the victim and for people simply hearing about the crime, it actually probably contributed to the fact that many of the men committed the crime. Because their friends were committing the same crime, rationalizing the behavior, and encouraging participation in the crime, they broke down the strong social taboo against child rape.
Of course, this differential association of deviant behavior did not begin with the assault of this child. While some of the assailants do not have backgrounds that would indicate demeaning attitudes towards women, others of them do. Many of the assailants were fathers, though none of them were married to the mothers of their children. Many of them had children by multiple mothers; one of the assailants had 5 paternity cases against him and he was only 19 years old. Another assailant had a 15-year-old "baby-mama." These facts suggest a cultural attitude that women are to be used for sexual satisfaction. Moreover,…