Gang rape is a serious and greatly understudied form of rape. Gang rape is also sometimes referred to as group rape. Both terms refer to a rape or sexual assault committed by more than one perpetrator against one victim. Most research on gang rape has focused on cases reported to police or incidents in college populations. In general, research has shown that gang rape is less common than rape committed by one offender against one victim, yet more serious in terms of the number and severity of sexual acts suffered by victims.
Prevalence, Reporting, and Risk Factors
Research has shown estimated rates of gang rape range from under 2% in student populations to up to 26% in police-reported cases. However, according to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, there were 28,350 rapes/sexual assaults in 2005 that involved multiple offenders. That year there were 94,347 forcible rapes known to the police; therefore, approximately 30% of rapes in 2005 were gang or group rapes. Less than one third of rapes overall are reported to police, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, and only 5% or fewer rapes of college students are reported to police. It is likely that gang rapes are also underreported to police, but data on this issue are lacking. Past studies of students and police-reported cases have shown that there is a preponderance of young offenders and victims in gang rapes, and greater levels of violence by offenders and substance use involved in gang rapes. Evidence is mixed about the demographic characteristics of offenders and victims in gang rapes, but some data suggest that victims and offenders in these incidents may more likely be of lower socioeconomic status. Although researchers and journalists have documented gang rape cases occurring in the context of fraternities and sports teams, no statistical evidence exists to show that these contexts pose greater risk of gang rape than other situations.
Comparisons of Gang and Individual Rapes
A few studies have compared gang and individual (e.g., single-offender) rapes, and most research shows that victims experience more completed rape and a greater number of other forced sexual acts in gang rape attacks. Studies have shown either no differences or higher levels of physical injuries for victims of gang rapes. Research on police-reported stranger rapes has found more alcohol and drug involvement, fewer weapons, more attacks at night, and less victim resistance in gang rapes. On the other hand, some research with college students has shown no difference in substance use involvement, but more victim resistance and more offender violence, including weapons, in gang rapes. A recent study of sexual assault victims recruited from the community showed that gang rapes are more likely than single-offender rapes to occur outdoors, be committed by stranger assailants, and involve more offender violence and weapons and greater physical injury to victims. These offenses are also more likely to involve substance use and victim resistance.
Few studies have examined measures of postassault victim functioning. It is unclear whether gang rape victims are more likely than single-offender victims to tell others about their assaults. However, when they do disclose, research shows that gang rape victims are more likely to seek help from police, medical, and rape crisis services than single-offender victims. They also are more likely to contemplate or attempt suicide, have greater likelihood of having posttraumatic stress disorder, and are more likely to seek therapy after the assault than single-offender rape victims. Some research suggests that gang rape victims have greater histories of other traumatic events and child sexual abuse in their lives than single-offender rape victims.
A recent media-recruited community sample of over 1,000 sexual assault survivors in a large metropolitan area showed that 17.9% of sexual assaults were committed by two or more offenders. Although the gang rape victims in the sample did not differ from individual rape victims in their frequency of contact with social networks, they did perceive themselves to be getting along more poorly with others. In addition, even though the gang rape victims reported getting the same degree of positive social reactions from others whom they told about the assault, they also received more negative social reactions to sexual assault disclosure than individual rape victims received. This is important because other research shows that negative social reactions (e.g., being blamed) relate to more posttraumatic stress disorder in sexual assault victims. It is possible that gang rape victims may have poorer relationships or ability to elicit social support from their social networks and/or face greater stigma from others following assault.
Although cases of gang rape have been reported in the media and in research, this form of sexual assault is understudied. Unfortunately, statistics on the incidence and prevalence of gang rape from representative community samples are lacking. More research attention and intervention are needed to address this serious crime. A small body of existing research comparing gang to single-offender rapes does suggest that gang rapes are more violent and appear to have more serious consequences for victims. Treatment and intervention efforts are needed for victims of gang rape to address this high-risk subgroup of rape victims.
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- Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics online: http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/