news

Long read: Why are gang rapists filming their crimes?

Trigger warning: this article discusses graphic sexual assault and may be distressing to some readers.

Most criminals try to destroy evidence of their crimes. But not gang rapists. Nina Funnell explores the motivations behind the disturbing trend of rapists recording their assaults…

Four men and a teenage boy were charged with multiple sexual offenses this week, after NSW police found footage depicting the alleged gang rape of an unconscious 16-year-old girl, shot on a Go-Pro camera, at a party in St Clair in May this year.

The details of the case are disturbing, and but they are far from unique.

Tristan Carlyle-Watson, one of the alleged rapists. Image via Facebook.

In 2002, three California men – including the son of a Sheriff- videotaped themselves anally and vaginally gang raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, with multiple objects including a lit cigarette, a pool cue, and various bottles. The men, who laughed throughout the attack, were sentenced to six years jail, but were released just two years later. The men argued that their conviction should be overturned because the victim’s “sexual history” was not heard at trial.

In 2006, a group of twelve teenage boys in Melbourne filmed themselves sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl with a developmental disability. They then produced a DVD of the assault, which they sold for $5 a copy under the name “Cunt: the Movie.” The boys, who called themselves the ‘Teenage Kings of Werribee’ also urinated on the girl, set her hair on fire, and threw her belongings into the river.

While some of the boys had convictions recorded against them, they did not serve jail time, and were instead ordered to participate in a program about ‘positive sexuality’. In 2009, one of the offenders uploaded a rap video on his personal website gloating about the fact that he was not jailed and remained unrepentant. It included the lyrics: “I’m still untouched. When her hair got flamed. They didn’t show her nude, when you look on YouTube.”

In 2013, a group of Vanderbilt football players in Tennessee, gang raped and then urinated on an unconscious 21-year-old student in a dorm room, laughing as they filmed and photographed the assault, also sending text messages and images to other men during the rape, bragging about their crime.

Also in 2013, a group of young men in New Zealand calling themselves the ‘Roast Busters’ filmed themselves committing and bragging about multiple alleged gang rapes of intoxicated, under aged girls. The group, which included a police officer’s son bragged on Facebook that “A true roast is where you know you are going there intentionally to roast this female”. Police said they were unable to take action until a victim was “brave enough” to make a formal complaint.

ADVERTISEMENT

The cases go on and on and on .

A member of the “roast busters”. Image via Twitter.

There are numerous reoccurring traits to these crimes:

The groups are all-male.

The men’s laughter.

The urination on, and further degradation of the victim.

The filming and memorializing of the violence.

The men’s perception that they are “untouchable” and above the law.

The boasting and bragging both during the crime, and afterwards.

The formal naming of the group as an attempt to ratify its existence, and confer status, identity and power on group members.

The victim’s silence following the attack (most of these crimes were uncovered by a third party who subsequently discovered the video footage).

The appallingly light sentences that are handed down.

The lack of any genuine contrition following sentencing, and the ongoing arrogance, entitlement, and egotistical displays of the perpetrators.

So, why are these individuals committing such heinous assaults? And why are they electing to film their crimes, producing incriminating records of their felonies?

According to sexual assault experts, both the rapes, and the filming of the rapes are ‘performed’ for purposes of male bonding by the gang rape group members.

“Images of the sexual assault are deliberately being taken and distributed as a way to increase a man’s status…”

Dr Anastasia Powell, lecturer at RMIT University says that while there is also a long history of individual sexual offenders filming and photographing their offenses as “reminders”, “trophy videos” or “scorecards” (which are sometimes used by the offender “to prepare themselves leading up to their next offense”), the filming of gang rapes is motivated by a slightly different set of factors.

“These practices seem to be occurring in a peer and social context, and not for the personal gratification of an individual sexual offender” says Powell.

“Images of the sexual assault are deliberately being taken and distributed as a way to increase a man’s status within their peer group” and to signal “a particular form of masculine dominance or status”.

Karen Willis, Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia agrees that gang rape videos are often produced to solidify male bonding between gang rape group members, and to enhance the perceived social status of the group, by other male peers the video is shared with.

ADVERTISEMENT

“What we know about sexual assault in company [i.e. gang rape] is that the crime is about developing a relationship between men and the woman just happens to be the tool in that process. She is totally irrelevant in their minds, and what’s important to them is the relationship and status between men. So as the assault progresses, you see an increase in the violence and depravation. As the process goes on, the men will try to out-do each other to prove their worth by showing how perverse they can be. The concept of filming the assault is just one more step. It’s that one man’s way of saying ‘look how worthy I am in the group, aren’t I terrific’. He is proving himself to men in the group and attracting the approval of others” says Willis.

Referring to the recent ‘Go Pro’ case, Willis says that the man who filmed the assaults “would have got quite a bit of status within the group for having made the footage, so they could all relive their awfulness.”

Tristan Carlyle Watson a man alleged to be involved with the GoPro case.

And according to the experts, the act of filming and memorializing the abuse is not just about proving the perpetrator’s worth in the moment or allowing the men to re-experience their domination and control afterwards: it is also a means by which they can ‘show-off’ and prove their dominance to other men who they share the video with.

“The role of male peers in creating cultures where sexual violence is normalised, even celebrated, has been identified as a factor in sexual violence more generally. These images may be serving as an extension of that male peer support of sexual violence against women” says Powell.

“The [act of filming] adds another layer to the objectification of the woman in the room, and has the potential to further dehumanize her as merely an object in a scene being played out for the benefit of a male audience”. In this way, the camera creates “another authorizing body in the room” that may also allow other men “to re-experience the moment of power” later on, says Powell.

Men want to re-experience the power again.

So do these rapists consider the fact that they are producing a deeply incriminating record of their crimes?

‘Unlikely’, say both Willis and Powell.

“Most of these offenders often think that what they are doing is amusing and not all that bad. These blokes have such a low opinion [of women and of the victim], and they are so self-entitled, and consider their needs so paramount, that they often view the woman as totally powerless and irrelevant. They assume she will do nothing and they don’t particularly care anyway”, says Willis.

ADVERTISEMENT

Powell offers a further explanation. “In some instances, perpetrators are threatening women with the public distribution of such images, as a means to silence them and prevent them reporting an assault.”

In other words, while the video might initially be produced to facilitate group bonding, some perpetrators are also using the footage to extend their power, intimidation and control over the victim well after the actual rape has ended.

Footage from the ‘Teenage Kings’.

Powell notes that due to problematic community attitudes, when videos are released there is often a tendency for others in the broader community to “default to blaming the victim” and heaping shame and humiliation on her, rather than the perpetrators.

In some cases “victims have also become the target of harassment and abuse online by others who have seen the images or hear about the assault – a practice which further extends the exercise of power of the perpetrator and the loss of control experienced by the victim” says Powell.

“Victims describe feeling doubly-violated, shamed and humiliated, in situations where images are taken. Even walking down the street becomes a traumatic experience, with victims saying that they just do not know who and how many people may have seen those images – and they fear that someone will recognize them in the street.”

They hope to humiliate their victims.

According to Powell, another devastating element for the victim is that once a video is released the rape “has no finality”. “The event is never final. There is no end point to the assault. It’s unending. Victims simply have no way of knowing who has and hasn’t seen the video, so everywhere they go becomes unsafe…It’s not just an ‘add on’ to the assault. It’s like a second assault.”

Based on the sorts of phone calls received by the counselling service that Willis fronts, these shocking crimes are more common than many of us realise.

“Every weekend there will be a party somewhere [in Australia] where a woman and a group of guys will disappear for a while. She’ll resurface looking teary and dishevelled and people might raise an eyebrow, but most ignore it. Yet nine times out of ten, that’s exactly what’s just happened to her”.

“Hopefully [the media attention on the current ‘Go-Pro’ case] will make people begin to reflect and recognise what it is they are witnessing at a party [and take intervening action] before a crime takes place.”