Recent reports have shed light on a truly heartbreaking story: an 11-year-old Texas girl was gang-raped in November by eighteen men, ranging from middle-school students to a 27-year-old. There is absolutely no excuse for this heinous act committed against this young girl.
So why is the media putting forth information that insinuates blame falling on the victim and/or her mother? The New York Times published a story that included the following text:
Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.
“Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”
This is absolutely fucking ridiculous. Regardless of age, wearing make-up or various fashion styles is NOT AN INVITATION FOR RAPE. Where was her mother? Really? How can the actions of 18 men have anything to do with what the girl was wearing or the location of her mother? The real thing I’m looking for is the lesson that rape and assault and heinous acts against others are wrong and unacceptable. Why do we continue to live in a culture that blames victims, forces them to feel that they cannot raise their voices to report their attackers, and leads survivors to feel shame for something over which they have no control? (Seriously, rape culture is real. Look it up.)
I’m sure (or at least I damn well hope) that the NY Times doesn’t believe that the victim’s clothing, makeup, or mother’s whereabouts should be viewed as excuses for the actions of these 18 men and boys, but perhaps some stronger writing would address the inherent problems of blaming a crime victim for the atrocities committed against them. Try that out, media. Social commentary is great and framing is important: how about indicating that victim-blaming is harmful to our society and the idea of justice?
There has been tremendous response to this huge media fail (see responses at Jezebel, Double X Factor, & Feministing), and I definitely encourage you all to tweet @NYTimes, @thepubliceditor and demand an apology. And please check out Shelby Knox’s change.org petition seeking a formal, written apology and an editorial from a victim’s rights perspective.
Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak out against rape culture. It’s real and it needs to be put to rest.
This post brought to you by Dawn.