In a story that is horrifying both because of its content and the media coverage that has followed in its aftermath, 18 young men and teenage boys, some as young as middle-schoolers, were arrested in the town of Cleveland, Texas, for gang-raping an 11-year-old girl last November. The police learned about the assault last November, when one of the girl’s elementary-school classmates told her teacher that she had seen a cellphone video of the attack.
According to an affidavit, which cited photos and videos as proof, the girl was offered a ride by a 19-year-old man, who took her to his house, forced her to disrobe, and along with several other men, sexually assaulted her. She was then taken to an abandoned mobile home, where the rest of the assaults occurred. Several of the attackers documented the event on their phones.
All of this is now just hitting the news. New York Times reporter James McKinley Jr.’s approach, which focuses on the way that the East Texas community has reacted to the assaults, is problematic, insensitive, and victim-blaming. It paints the attackers as well-meaning “boys” who were “drawn into” the horrible violence, and describes the victim as dressing “older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” Although the alleged attackers are only now being arrested, and a trial has yet to commence, the coverage seems to indict the victim as if not more severely than the men who repeatedly raped an 11-year-old girl, while taking videos on their cellphones.
As Shakespeare’s Sister points out, by the fourth paragraph of the NYT article we know a significant number of details about the attackers; the victim has yet to figure in the story aside from her gender and age. McKinley quotes a woman who is dismayed at the idea that “these boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” Of course, the trauma of being raped by almost twenty men is made to seem negligable by comparison….