The New York Times definitely felt the brunt of criticism over an earlier report on an alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old in East Texas. The original story focused largely on the eagerness of many in the community to blame the victim and let the alleged attackers off the hook for sexually assaulting a middle-school student, without providing the necessary context to understand these responses. Now the Times and McKinley are back with a more in-depth report that frames the victim-blaming as victim-blaming and looks more closely at what it means to rape a young girl, no matter how naughty and disobedient she is.
Unsurprisingly, the reporting casts doubts on the accusations leveled at the victim that imply she’s a tramp, a grown woman who loves to have sex with multiple men but who just happens to be trapped in the body of a child who has stuffed animals on her bed. The people who know the alleged victim paint a much different picture, of a bright child with a rebellious streak who has been severely and possibly permanently traumatized. The parents, who have also been the target of much victim-blaming, come across as two people in poor health struggling to keep their heads above water financially, and whose ability to control their daughter has been severely compromised by these facts. It’s sad that it even has to be said, but the common sense that would tell us that even rebellious 11-year-olds don’t deserve or desire to be gang raped cannot be assumed, and this reality has to be spelled out, in heart-breaking detail.
In the weeks since the original report in the New York Times was published, more details have emerged from this case that have shed light on some of the racial and political tensions that are exaggerating the usual blame-the-victim response that inevitably emerges after a rape. Lori Adelman, writing for the Grio, did a bang-up job of teasing out the implications and addressing how to look at this situation’s complexity without falling back on victim-blaming. Unfortunately, both the KKK and the New Black Panthers (which have nothing in common with and have been denounced by the real Black Panthers) have exploited this situation to escalate racial tensions in one of the most tense parts of the country. The realities of this young girl’s situation and life are getting overwhelmed rapidly by all the political noise surrounding this case, and this Times piece is a welcome reminder that we should remember the victims first and look to see how to prevent crimes like this in the future.