Gang rape means that the victim’s suffering is multiplied during the rape, but also in the months and years that follow, as each individual rapist is another man to testify against and another man whose defense attorney will be portraying you as a slut who asked for it to the jury.
Sadly, this is what a teenage girl who suffered repeated gang rapes in Cleveland, TX is up against. The victim has now endured two trials, with six more accused rapists still on deck, and the main strategy for the defense is to work the misogynist myth of the woman who has sex and “cries rape,” presumably because destroying men for no reason is fun. During the most recent trial for Jared Len Cruse, defense attorney Steve Taylor accused the victim, 11 years old at the time of the rapes, of being a seductress who lures men to their doom as he questioned the detective on the case.
“Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?’ ” Taylor asked.
“I wouldn’t call her a spider,” Langdon replied. “I’d say she was just an 11-year-old girl.”
“I hope nothing like this ever happens to your two teenage sons,” Taylor snapped back.
Prosecutor Joe Warren asked Langdon what he would do if his own sons had been involved in such a case.
“I would not whitewash it or sweep it under the rug,” the detective said.
This case became famous last year in part because of the victim’s age at the time of the crime, and in part because of the sheer number of young men involved in the rapes, which were filmed and shared widely in the community. To make it worse, the New York Times ran an article uncritically reporting on the way many in the community blamed the victim and sympathized with the rapists, for which the paper apologized.
It’s hard to read about anyone painting a picture of a raped pre-teen as a femme fatale, but I caution against making the defense attorneys the focus of rage in this case. The job of a defense attorney is to present the best case he can in defense of his client. With videotaped evidence, the defense attorney can’t simply claim that the sex never happened. All he’s left with is trotting out this old story about the devious accuser and the innocent men trapped by her schemes. Defense attorneys use this strategy because it works, as can be routinely demonstrated. As long as juries keep acquitting based on this myth that women routinely make up rape accusations for the hell of it, defense attorneys will continue to use it. The problem here is a larger culture that promotes rape myths, not defense attorneys who exploit these myths in last-ditch attempts to get acquittals for rapists who have overwhelming evidence against them.
In this particular case, however, the strategy didn’t work. Regardless of what the jury may think of the moral character of the victim, the reality is that she was only 11 years old, and thus could not legally give consent. The jury returned a guilty verdict, as they did for the first defendant. Hopefully, the others who are awaiting trial will see the writing on the wall and plead guilty rather than continue to put the victim through more trauma.