Penal Issues (2006->) janvier 2005

A RESEARCH ON GANG RAPE CASES : JUDICIAL DATA AND SOCIOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

par Laurent MUCCHIELLI,

Laurent MUCCHIELLI, Researcher at the CNRS, teaches at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines and heads the CESDIP. His work focuses include juvenile delinquency and interpersonal violence.

The present research project arose from questions elicited by media attention, in France, as intense as it was sudden, to what journalists, using the slang expression in currency, named “tournantes” (“revolving turns”). A yearly count of the number of times the expression “gang rape” was to be found in the headlines of the Agence France Presse press dispatches (one of the main sources of information for the other media) is eloquent. Whereas gang rape was only mentioned in 1 to 7 headlines between 1990 and 2000 (with an annual average of 4), in 2001 the expression “gang rape”, along with the new term, “tournantes”, appeared 50 times. The phenomenon receded in 2002, with 32 mentions, followed by only 23 in 2003, and practically disappeared in 2004. Analysis of the content of newspaper articles shows that most depicted the phenomenon as quite new, growing in importance and specific to a particular place and group : “youths from the ’hoods’”, which is to say, youths “of immigrant origin”.. This view should in fact be examined within the broader framework of the debate on “fear of crime” and “the suburbs”, further amplified by the theme of violence against women and fear of Islam. Moreover, this media publicity is to be viewed within the context of the 2001 and 2002 electoral campaigns, both axed on the theme of “fear of crime”. In many respects, we have a “moral panic” phenomenon here. We then delved deeper into the matter. Alongside of a qualitative and quantitative analysis of how the media dealt with “tournantes”, we first collected historical documents, then analysed available statistics, and last, studied twenty-odd judicial files for cases tried over the last ten years (1994-2003) in the Paris area, at assises court (under the accusation of “collective rapes”) and in correctionnel court (under the charge of “collective sexual assault”). The outcome of these two analyses (on how the media dealt with the subject and on the phenomenon itself), as well as critical comments based on comparison of the two are the subject of a published book. The present paper simply sets forth some data and elements of the sociological analysis.

 

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