An adolescent crime of extreme violence

A 15-year-old boy in Hopkinsville, Kentucky has allegedly been sexually assaulted by three men and two juveniles, with more arrests possible, leaving him with life-threatening injuries in an intensive care unit. These 17 through 20-something year old boys also allegedly videotaped the event and then shared the video by cell phone. There is so much wrong about this tragedy, I am not sure where to start.

First of all, there is nothing sexual about sexual assault. This is not gay sex nor any type of consensual sex. This is a violent action toward a young boy by older boys when the younger boy was perhaps unconscious. Without knowing all the details about the relationship between the victim and his perpetrators, or the motivation for this particular criminal act, we can say that this primitive, gang or mob-like behavior is related to issues of “power over” another, violence, and rage.

This kind of violence happens in a culture that was born of violence, specifically with the genocide of American Indians by European settlers. Our society continues to promote physical violence in all sorts of ways from war mongering in the name of freedom to football as a national sport, rewarding its celebrities with riches while damaging their brains and bodies for our benefit. I am reminded of The Hunger Games, a metaphor for this type of violence: violence as entertainment for the public designed to distract us from the harsh realties of life. We are all somewhat complicit in such violence by our votes, or lack thereof, and by our acceptance of violence as the status quo.

Emotional violence is another matter. Competition reigns in our world. Emotional violence can be extremely damaging, prompting enormous anxiety, depression, fear and paranoia. These kids, the victim and the perpetrators, are all products of our culture of violence. Each person involved in this event will suffer huge consequences to be played out the rest of their lives.

Sharing the videotape relates to voyeurism and bullying, male bonding, competition and humiliation. Perhaps some of the perpetrators have been sexually assaulted themselves but this is still a tragic crime. Rage can result from such victimization. Peer influence also impacts behavior, and explains how even “good” boys can participate in acts of horror when they take their lead from alpha males.

This kind of gang behavior and single sexual assaults are found in every community in our nation, and especially on college campuses. Alcohol and drug use increase such violence. Ours is a drinking society where alcohol is not only well accepted but supported. Alcohol itself is still legal whereas other, less harmful drugs are not. Football viewers get drunk on Sunday football afternoons, resulting in increased acts of domestic violence toward women. We also have to wonder about how the levels of testosterone in males influence mood resulting in irritability and increased anger and hostility.

I have not heard speculation about the boys’ sexualities, nor does it matter. Remember that rape is rape and is about violence, not sex. Using an object to sodomize a young boy, perforating his colon and damaging his bladder, illustrates the severity of this particular violent act. How this event has damaged this young boy’s psyche is a longer and perhaps more tragic story, as it follows him the rest of his life. And, by the way, why isn’t there more media attention given to this crime?

Sharing the sexual assault by video is a violation itself. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed and they have not yet developed the full brain function needed to make good decisions. They often act out recklessly and riskily, sometimes forever changing their lives with poor decisions they have made during this fragile period of human growth and development. Death and injury are prominent in this age group.

There is no recipe for who becomes a perpetrator or a bully, but there are some characteristics of adolescence and family dynamics that contribute to the likelihood of such violence. Add in alcohol and drugs and a perfect storm can arise.

If you know anyone who has been raped violently, then you know that this one act has changed them forever. You can’t undo Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Yes, there are mental health treatments, alternative therapies and techniques that can help victims survive and learn to deal with their shame and horror. And the impact spreads, affecting not only them but their families and friends, neighborhoods and cities, creating much fear about safety for our young people.

What can we do about this kind of violence perpetrated on our children by kids not much older than they? Let us shine the light on such treacherous acts and work together on violence in our culture.




Barbara Sanders, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Nashville:

graphic via WKRN 

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