[xtypo_dropcap]A[/xtypo_dropcap]s photos of the gang rape of a B.C. teenager continue circulating on the Web despite pleas from police, a psychologist says young people are lacking empathy because of exposure to a barrage of sexual and violent imagery at an increasingly young age.
That the photos of the rape were posted on Facebook and subsequently went viral on the Internet are testament to the fact that young people’s perceptions have become skewed, says Dr. Oren Amitay, a Toronto-based psychologist and university lecturer.
“Today, children are being exposed to these kinds of imagery from a very young age, before they have the mental capacity to discern fact from fiction,” he says.
“It’s not like they’re watching cartoons—they’re watching real people on YouTube or some other video channel having horrible things happen to them. It doesn’t have to be necessarily sex; it can be violence, it can be cruel pranks. But by seeing it at that young age, to them it becomes normalized and they just learn to watch it as entertainment versus thinking about what it must be like to be the recipient of what’s going on.”
At a press conference last Thursday, police called on teens to stop distributing graphic pictures of the gang rape of the 16-year-old girl, which took place in a field near a house in the Vancouver suburb of Pitt Meadows on Sept. 10 during a rave party.
RCMP Sgt. Peter Thiessen told reporters that the girl may have been drugged with GHB, a date-rape drug whose street names include Grievous Bodily Harm and Liquid Ecstasy. He said as many as a dozen people may have watched the attack, which lasted for 20 minutes.
That those who witnessed the rape failed to try to stop it or call 911 doesn’t surprise Amitay.
“Time and again we’ve seen that people don’t intervene in such cases,” he says. “They don’t want to be the one to stand out. They don’t want to risk having the attack on them.”
A new and disturbing phenomenon in recent years, he notes, is the video recording of such incidents—often in the pursuit of fame with the aim of being the next “YouTube wonder.”
“That’s just disturbing and it’s really showing our norms. And it’s not just one kid. Many kids would do the same thing, because we see this all the time.”