Sherills told me he became a gangbanger because he was sexually molested. “But that’s taboo,” he said. “You don’t say that. Feeling worthless, like you are an object. In this neighborhood 90 percent of young men have been sexually abused. I will say 99 percent of ladies. Everybody is operating within the cloud. It’s the elephant that is sitting in the room that no one speaks of.”I wouldn't take those numbers as meaning anything more than Sherills' statement that sexual abuse of children is not just the norm, but extremely common. I can remember reading a collection of surveys done in the 1970s, and while the percentage of adults reporting sexual abuse as children was much higher than anyone had expected, one survey done of females in South Central Los Angeles was extraordinary--half reported being sexually abused.
One of the shocking discoveries of the 1980s was not just how common sexual abuse of children was, but that it wasn't just in ghettos. I can remember how amazed a lot of people were when magazine and newspaper articles first started reporting that this was surprisingly common in middle class suburbs in Silicon Valley. These days, there is a tendency to overemphasize its ubiquitousness across all classes--perhaps in overreaction to the former tendency to assume that this was almost entirely a ghetto behavior.