Personal, cultural and social factors affect an individual’s thoughts and behaviours (Malamuth & Briere, 1986). Such factors include how a person has been brought up, how a person has developed, the prevalence of attitudes and values, the role of technology and media, social groups and peer influences. Throughout society, there are rape myths that are persistent and stereotypical that implement false ideations and attitudes as to what an action of rape is and means (Mcgee, O’higgins, Garavan, & Conroy, 2011). Therefore, attention and education needs to be drawn to myths and social attitudes on what sexual assaults are. In regard to the possible situations, motives, actions, beliefs, offenders or victims can be involved in this crime. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017), sexual assaults have risen from 2016 to 2017 by 8%. This is also supported by the Personal Safety Survey (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017) which focused on the physical and sexual abuse of men and women under the age of 15. Cases of abuse against females were found to be most commonly committed by a parent or step-parent and over an extended period of time, either by the same person or different people (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Although from the statistics sexual assaults are said to be rising, this can be influenced by numerous factors such as more people reporting their victimisation, better actions in ways to report the crime or that it truly is increasing.
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Although all victims of crime, suffer from being victimised the impacts vary extensively based on their experience, age and the offence. For example, when an underage girl is sexually assaulted it can severely impact her development, psychological wellbeing, social attitudes and behaviours (Trickett, Noll, & Putnam, 2011). It is also common for young victims of crime to blame themselves for becoming a victim, resulting in difficulty to overcome the consequences. Although crimes have negative outcomes for anyone involved and the society, these personal victim blaming beliefs result in more severe and negative outcomes (Henrietta & Ullman, 2006). When an assault occurs during a young person’s childhood, it can also severally impact upon factors like their onset of puberty, developing cognitive and intellectual abilities, stress responses, substance abuse habits, weight issues, mentality difficulties and revictimization (Trickett et al., 2011). Therefore, it is vital to target sexual assaults by drawing specific focus on those offending against underage people and to prevent the actions from occurring by focusing on community attitudes, the media and warning signs of a possible offender.
In March 2017, a case about the sexual assault of a thirteen-year-old girl committed by a group of eight boys came to the attention of the media (Feng, 2018). Although on a daily basis sexual assaults are evident throughout the media, this one was specifically different as it involved the victim being of a young age and many of the offenders also being under the age of eighteen (Feng, 2018). This case demonstrated aspects of biological factors that may have influenced not only the offender’s actions but the victim too. The offender’s and victim’s development, life experiences and what may have impacted on their actions and beliefs, are all factors that influence the motivation of the crime. It was stated during the court hearing by the lawyers, that the victim did have a cognitive disability, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, nutrition deficit and she was neglected and sexually abused by members of her family prior to the assault taking place (Feng, 2018). Due to her cognitive impairments and her previous assault history the victim may have been more naïve and vulnerable, causing the offenders to target her with greater ease than others. While it was also suggested that she may not have been able to register that the assault was wrong or how to say no, due to her previous assault history and the norms that may have been created in her opinion, due to this (Hedlund & Gothberg, 2005). Through medical testing the victim was also found to be positive for four infections and chlamydia, once again demonstrating that her history of abuse and maltreatment has not only impacted on her psychological state but her internal body functioning too (Feng, 2018).
The offenders were all aged between fifteen and eighteen years and participated in different areas of the sexual assault. Some physically participated in the sexual acts, took photographs and videos, drove the vehicle or drew the victim in to be assaulted. Therefore, as based on what they participated in during the extent of the assault, each of the offenders were sentenced to differing charges or are still awaiting their court hearing. This crime involves many aspects of biological components that may have influenced the group of offenders to commit the assault. A selection of them were stated to have cognitive impairments which lead them to become more vulnerable to severe peer pressure that influenced them to participate in the acts of sexual assaulting the susceptible victim (Feng, 2018). Due to the age of many of the offenders, their personal information and medical and psychological history was not published in the article. Therefore, it is vital to note that there may have been more underlying factors that influenced their actions.
Aspects of the brain like the prefrontal cortex take an extensive amount of time to develop, generally over two decades (Diamond, 2002). During adolescence this undeveloped region can lead to poor and impulsive decision making and issues with problem solving (Romer, 2010). Between the ages of seven and early adulthood the prefrontal cortex is developing to become responsible for using strategies, processing and withholding information, utilising the with held information and resisting immediate responses through considering inhibition and consequences (Diamond, 2002). Due to adolescents being within the age of group of those whose brain has not fully developed and having limited societal experiences, means that they do engage in poor decisions such as substance abuse, risk taking and unprotected, dangerous sexual activity (Romer, 2010). These aspects of development, seeking sensations and moving away from family, can be possible causes for why adolescents engage in criminal behaviours without considering the impacts of their decisions. They may also engage in behaviours that are risky due to a desire to seek approval from society and their peers, demonstrating that during the ages of thirteen and eighteen is a very vulnerable time, just as the ages of the offenders were during this crime (Ellis et al., 2012).
The offenders of this crime exhibit qualities of a power driven sexual offender, through two power types, power assertive and power reassurance. Power assertive involves the offender attempting to restore their self-confidence and self esteem by participating in crime to attempt to compensate for their belief of their lack of masculinity (Hedlund & Gothberg, 2005). During this type of crime, the offenders exhibit patterns of behaviour like abusing, punishing, using commands, using force and exhibiting an extensive amount of power to feel greater control and masculinity than the victim (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). These aspects are evident throughout this crime by the ways in which the offenders were all of a young age and may have felt that committing the crime against a vulnerable target would allow them to feel more masculine and like an adult. They also did so to reinforce their confidence and chose their victim based on her availability and captured, conquered and controlled her to fulfil their desires of either sexual arousal or having power over someone (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). However, they also exhibited some aspects of power reassurance due to the desire to fit into a specific group or society and wanting others to accept and like them (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). Therefore, they participated in the crime in order to be a part of a group of people who may have also desired to prove their masculinity to others or fit in. Power reassurance perpetrators also offend in order to rise to their self esteem and rely on threatening the victim verbally rather than physically abusing them. This type of power also suggests the offender has a lack of confidence and regularly keeps a record of the attack. This is evident through this crime by the offenders taking and with-holding videos and photographs to exhibit their accomplishment (Petherick & Turvey, 2008). Therefore, these two forms of power motives are both exhibited through this crime and may have categorised the offenders into each of the different power forms or they may have fulfilled certain characteristics of both of them.
Rape and sexual assault crimes can also be categorised into two forms of motive, situational or preferential. A situational motive is when a person or group of people commit a sexual offence due to the victim’s vulnerability and availability, rather than for achieving sexual gratification (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, & Ressler, 2013). These offenders are also attempting to achieve other needs during the crime as well, like social approval or higher self esteem. In comparison to a preferential driven assault, where the offender generally plans and repeats the behaviours as acting in order to fulfil their sexual desires and arousal through forcing an unwilling victim into sexual activities (Douglas et al., 2013). It is evident through this crime that although the group of offenders may have individually had differing motives and drives to commit the assault, however situational motivation played the key role. If the adolescent and young adult offenders did choose the victim due to her age being sexually attractive, then preferential motive could have been the underlying motive. However due to her circumstances, family history and mentality it is more supportive that she was chosen due to her accessibility and vulnerability rather than the offenders having a sexual preference and desire to commit the offence against any girl of her age group.
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The media’s focus on this case brings to light an aspect of sexual assault that is vital to target. Sexual assaults can be committed by adolescents against other adolescents which results in severe impacts on the victims, community, families and offenders. It also focuses on not only the impact but also the influence of what has caused the crime to be committed. It is therefore vital to research and discover what the disadvantages are in the communities where these crimes are committed and their perspectives on sexual assault. The role of the media also plays a key role here as it is exhibiting these crimes for anyone to see or read about. Therefore, it has the possibility to influence how possible, future offenders view crime and their beliefs about committing crime as being an acceptable thing to do. Awareness needs to be raised on sexual assault and what the best ways are to prevent them from occurring. In doing so it is vital to target available resources for the direct and indirect victims that are easily accessible and effectively demonstrates sexual assault as a social problem rather than something hidden (Quebec, 2018).
To prevent crimes like this being committed in the future, strategic and preventative actions must be implemented. To directly target adolescence and their offences of a sexual assault, one method would be to focus on self worth and how they intrinsically view themselves. By doing so, society will be able to teach the young citizens how to positively deal with difficult urges and views, rather than negatively like these offenders did in this crime. Drawing attention to this area takes into consideration that being aware of these crimes is not enough to make a substantial difference, at times. Instead, society must act out in representing them in a way that demonstrates to possible offenders and vulnerable victims that to feel power, control or mature one does not need to engage in a criminal activity.
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- Diamond, A. (2002). Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: Cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. Principles of frontal lobe function. (pp. 466-503).
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