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Questionable reporting in rape case
March 9, 2011 11:35 PM   Subscribe

After the horrific gang-rape of a child in a small town in east Texas has gained national attention, serious criticisms have been made of how the story has been reported.

The criticisms have focused on the use of quotations from members of the divided community who blame the child or her parents for the assault, as well as including details of her appearance. The issue of victim blaming in general has not gone unnoticed, though even an article which -- unlike
most currently on the web -- actually talks about the effect on this crime on the victim still starts with a headline focussed on the rest of the town instead.
posted by jb (132 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Christ, sometimes I hate humanity.
posted by bwg at 11:42 PM on March 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


That Mother Jones article was the motherfucking real talk.
This is the point at which, as the writer's editor, I would send him an email. "Dear James," it would say. "Thanks for getting this in! I have some concerns that we've only got quotes from people who are worried about the suspects ('The arrests have left many wondering who will be taken into custody next') and think the girl was asking for it, especially since, even if she actually begged for it, the fact that she is 11 makes the incident stupendously reprehensible (not to mention still illegal). We don't want anyone wrongly thinking you are being lazy or thoughtless or misogynist! Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster."
posted by the_bone at 11:46 PM on March 9, 2011 [122 favorites]


Just one more reason why the New York Times is a joke.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:52 PM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


My sister is 11.

I want to cry.
posted by Phire at 11:52 PM on March 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's the story of a small community desperately trying to absolve itself of any responsibility for something so horrific that you think it could only happen in war. I'm not excusing their clumsy attempts to apportion blame, but I know why they are doing it. I'm not sure if the journalists are trying to report this reaction or are joining in.
posted by londonmark at 11:55 PM on March 9, 2011


I kept reading that NYT article, unable to understand that entire chunks were apparently missing. As the Mother Jones post points out, it would be so easy (and seemingly standard practice) to cut to an opposing view. "Others in the community are quick to point out that it doesn't matter what the fuck the little girl was wearing."

For instance.

So weird. Is it at all possible that the NYT article literally is missing parts? If not, why would you publish that? Not to be dumb, but man. I don't get it.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 12:01 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want to puke. Fuck you, James McKinley. Fuck you too, rape apologists.

(And ugh, going down the rabbit hole has led me to learn about the Glen Ridge rape. I really fucking hate people sometimes.)
posted by kmz at 12:02 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


That NYT article had me absolutely furious when I read it earlier today. I'm glad people are speaking up about this.

Aside from that, yeah, learning about the actual events made me want to shut down entirely. What a world.
posted by naju at 12:05 AM on March 10, 2011


When I remember myself at eleven, I remember being desperate to look sexy and older. If my parents hadn't been there to stop me, I would have been out the door in hot pants and bikini tops and high heels. I spent hours at a time "practicing" the makeup I wasn't allowed to wear out of the house - layers of mascara, dark lipstick, even fake beauty marks. And the scary thing was I was already a b-cup, already being mistaken for 14 or 15 even in the normal 11 year-old-girl clothes my parents made me wear. In sexy clothes and makeup, I could have passed for an eighteen-year-old with terrible taste.

And the thing was, I was a baby. I was still playing with barbies. Most of my friends were the same - not many as physically developed as I was, but almost all wanting to look older and sexier. Do the women involved in this reportage not remember being eleven? Do they not know any eleven-year-olds? Because this is NORMAL. Without a strong parental influence, many little girls would walk around looking like tiny cartoon prostitutes.

(I'm not blaming her mother, by the way. This chilld could have changed clothes away from home, or it could just be the standard way that eleven-year-olds dress in her community and therefore normal. I know I see crews of kids out on Saturday afternoons dressed like mini pop stars and as uncomfortable as it makes me, I know that it's closer to normal now than it was 20 years ago when I was eleven).
posted by Wroksie at 12:13 AM on March 10, 2011 [46 favorites]


I keep wondering if that's how the NYT is portraying it, what are locals saying.

Also fox was worse.

"FOX 26 News spoke with one 15-year old boy who says the girl asked him out, but he turned her down after learning about her true age from his classmates."

What a fucking hero, fuck you fox news for even considering printing that. It's about an 11 year old that was raped you ass holes.
posted by Felex at 12:16 AM on March 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


From the Chron article:
On her Facebook page, the 11-year-old tells whomever she befriends that she's aware people have probably heard about her, but she doesn't care what they think.

"If you dislike me, deal with it," she wrote.

Sometimes she comes across like a little girl, such as when she talks of her special talent for making "weird sound effects" and "running in circles" to overcome nervousness.

But she also makes flamboyant statements about drinking, smoking and sex. Yet her vulnerability pokes through the tough veneer as she tells of "being hurt many times," where she "settled for less" and "let people take advantage" and "walk all over" her. She vows to learn from her mistakes.
The Chron article wasn't as repulsive as Fox or NYTimes, but I don't think they should be quoting verbatim from an 11-year old's Facebook page that was/is likely publicly accessible. This makes it pretty trivial to find out the girl's identity.
posted by benzenedream at 12:22 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is there a word for when the Media deals with an incident so reprehensibly that the focus is on how the story is reported rather than the incident itself.

See also : every other fucking time
posted by fullerine at 12:28 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kept reading that NYT article, unable to understand that entire chunks were apparently missing. As the Mother Jones post points out, it would be so easy (and seemingly standard practice) to cut to an opposing view. "Others in the community are quick to point out that it doesn't matter what the fuck the little girl was wearing."
Well, in order to report it, wouldn't someone have to say it? They're reporting how people in the area feel about it, not what's politically correct. Since it's not an opinion piece, the reporter can't interject their own view. I suppose they could have gotten a quote from an expert or something.

My guess is that there is that there are a lot of rumors going around town, probably a lot of rumors that don't portray the girl in a good light or the accusations as credible. The police haven't confirmed the details, and the reporting is just based on the search warrant.
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on March 10, 2011


I remember being 13, and wearing tight jeans and being excited when an 18-year old made out with me and wanted to have sex with me, though I was still grossed out by kissing with tongues.

I'm now 33, and if I had a time-machine I would go back to punch him in the face and tell him never to come near 13-year old me again or I would call the cops. I wasn't old enough to freely consent.

That's not to imply that there was any consent in this case -- the allegations are clearly not of statutory rape, but of coercive gang rape. But I don't understand how anyone else over the age of 13 could ever believe that a kid that age - or younger - is capable of uncoerced consent.

I agree - they probably should not have posted those details though, given the size of the town, it's unlikely her identity has been kept confidential. But having read those quotes, I have had a glimpse into her as a person that all of the other reporting has elided -- she's so lonely and hurt and so young. I have known girls and women who have been where she is now - and I just wish a bit that she could know - not just to say but really understand - that she doesn't have to settle for less, that she deserves better. That she can at least say it is something - but does she believe it? it takes most of us years to come to believe it truly.
posted by jb at 12:39 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


@the_bone: That Mother Jones article was the motherfucking real talk...Please advise if literally no other kinds of quotes are available because every single person who lives in Cleveland, Texas, is a monster."
@delmoi: Well, in order to report it, wouldn't someone have to say it?
What if noone James McKinley interviewed sympathised as strongly with the girl and mother as they did with the "community"? Would it still be journalism to prompt people with e.g. "I need a quote to balance the article, so could you please get your head out of your ass and stop victim blaming?"

Everyone is making an assumption that there were quotes available for the NYT article to be balanced with. And if there weren't?
posted by asymptotic at 12:40 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The corporate overlords have made sure that when anything reprehensible happens the victim is always blamed to some degree. There are no exceptions to this unspoken, self perpetuating law. Not an 11 year old girl. Not a 5 year old.

Having read the times article, it seemed as if they simply quoted some asshole. Poor journalism for sure, but we should all be mindful to point the rage where it belongs - to the animals that did this and the culture that created them.
posted by Hickeystudio at 12:41 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm, the Huston Chronicle article is much better, with quotes from the family and so on. I wonder why the NYT author wasn't able to get ahold of them? Maybe they couldn't find anyone on such a tight deadline.
posted by delmoi at 12:42 AM on March 10, 2011


What if noone James McKinley interviewed sympathised as strongly with the girl and mother as they did with the "community"?
Well, remember the parents and older siblings actually had to move away, and leave. So it doesn't sound like there is a lot of community support for the girl.
Would it still be journalism to prompt people with e.g. "I need a quote to balance the article, so could you please get your head out of your ass and stop victim blaming?"
Um, not at all.
posted by delmoi at 12:44 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


In any small community where a rape happens there tends, historically, to be backlash against the victim, a sort of "our men would never do such a thing...right?!" mentality. It totally happened in my hometown. The girl had to actually leave the country because public opinion was so heavily against her.

But, then again, she wasn't ELEVEN, and there wasn't a VIDEO TAPE of it. And you just know that, because it's Texas, the judge will hear all "evidence" pertaining to the girl's "character", and she'll probably be sentenced to death for killing the innocence of eighteen upstanding male citizens.

Sorry to dump on Texas, but come on. Their state government kill kids and retards for fun.
posted by Mooseli at 12:44 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


from the "divided community" link - "Many in Cleveland are furious at the thought of such a horrific crime against such a young girl.".

So there were people who could give them other quotes.
posted by jb at 12:44 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Everyone is making an assumption that there were quotes available for the NYT article to be balanced with. And if there weren't?

We can find scientists to quote who don't believe in climate change, tobacco used to find doctors to quote who would say that smoking wasn't bad for you.

If you look hard enough, there's an available quote for someone who sympathises with the plight of an 11 year old girl who just got raped.
posted by surenoproblem at 12:45 AM on March 10, 2011 [55 favorites]


The article ends with a note that local churches were praying for the victim; you'd think someone involved with that could come up with a less reprehensible quote. I strongly suspect it's just a failure to report thoroughly.
posted by Abiezer at 12:45 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The article ends with a note that local churches were praying for the victim;
"We're praying for you" can often be a backhanded statement, though.

Anyway, look, reporters are supposed to report the truth, not what we'd like to believe. If this community is full of misogynistic assholes then that's what should be reported.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


@surenoproblem. I'm sure you're right. But again, you're making assumptions. I'm border-line trolling so I'm just going to stop.
posted by asymptotic at 1:00 AM on March 10, 2011


The corporate overlords have made sure that when anything reprehensible happens the victim is always blamed to some degree.

That's right, the trilateral commission is behind this.
posted by atrazine at 1:16 AM on March 10, 2011


What makes me uncomfortable about this discussion, and even the Mother Jones piece, is the vitriol being directed at the reporter for not procuring quotes that channel readers' outrage.

Demanding "balance" can mean asking for some reasonable perspective - which seems to have been lacking in this piece. But "balance" can also, as we all know, be code for skewing a piece away from what the reporter actually observed to fulfill ideological or emotional criteria - even noble ones like these.

So what I'd suggest is that a dose of self-awareness in writing the piece would have been more helpful than hunting for quotes that might not have been representative: If the preponderance of interviewees in the neighbourhood really did blame the victim, this is a fact that would be worth not just reporting, but noting forthrightly in the article.

That way, blaming the victim doesn't read as a natural given, the lens is sharpened on the enabling attitude of the community, and the piece avoids implicitly legitimizing it. But at the same time, it doesn't ask the reporter to find a more palatable version of what he observed. Honest observation - if indeed that's what we got, and not just invus with the first three people he met on the street - is a greater virtue than contrived balance.
posted by bicyclefish at 1:21 AM on March 10, 2011 [41 favorites]


Yeah, people who write at the NYT are EXTREMELY bright. Their ambition can only be compared to that of politicians.

But ethics is a whole different category. NYT's writing is very calculated and meant to illicit a certain response out of people.

You can't have that if you keep wanting the WHOLE story. So you can either have bright, ambitious writers writing for you...or you can have the entire story. Not both. That's what I've learned from reading the NYT.

Also, standard comment about punishing people who create horror.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:35 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


bicyclefish: Demanding "balance" can mean asking for some reasonable perspective - which seems to have been lacking in this piece. But "balance" can also, as we all know, be code for skewing a piece away from what the reporter actually observed to fulfill ideological or emotional criteria - even noble ones like these.

From the NYT article: "The affidavit said the assault started after a 19-year-old boy invited the victim to ride around in his car. He took her to a house on Travis Street where one of the other men charged, also 19, lived. There the girl was ordered to disrobe and was sexually assaulted by several boys in the bedroom and bathroom. She was told she would be beaten if she did not comply, the affidavit said."

"Fulfil ideological or emotional criteria"? I'm sorry, WHAT? She was "ordered to disrobed", "she was told she would be beaten if she did not comply", and requesting the reporter to find quotes in addition to someone who talks about her clothing and demeanor is "fulfilling ideological or emotional criteria"?

I don't care how old you are, what gender you are, what you're wearing, whether you winked at somebody and giggled, it has nothing to do with being forced into sexual assault under threat of bodily harm. (Which I'm specifically citing because it's this specific case, which the reporter knew – there are, of course, other scenarios that are just as wrong.) That is not "ideological", it is not "emotional", it is wrong.
posted by fraula at 1:43 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


The issue of victim blaming in general has not gone unnoticed, though even an article which -- unlike most currently on the web -- actually talks about the effect on this crime on the victim still starts with a headline focussed on the rest of the town instead.

Rape is reprehensible no matter how old, how physically mature, or how sexually active the victim is. This rape was particularly despicable, but the compelling story here is the town's reaction to it. Otherwise it's just "heinous thing happened." Unless we're willing to say that gang raping an 11-year-old is default behavior for eighteen men and boys in a small town, I don't think it's necessarily victim-blaming to wonder how they might have been drawn into such a thing, nor do I think that shining the investigative light on how the town deals with that horrible question about some of its star athletes, common criminals, and the son of a school board member is in any way less responsible than keeping the focus on the victim.

But yeah... heinous thing happened, heinous people did it, poor girl, and I'm glad I don't live in that town (although I'm sure there are plenty of people in my town who could do equally awful things given the right set of circumstances). The event generates outrage -- more than enough to go around so we can vent it on the perpetrators, the townspeople, the reporters, and even each other.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:56 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't have the stomach to read this tonight, but having skimmed the comments here, I just want to say that she could have been soliciting these men wearing nothing but a big neon arrow pointing at her vagina and they would still be monsters and this would still be abhorrent and nauseating. How the fuck does there exist a group of people where this sort of thing can even get past the jokey discussion stage and actually HAPPEN let alone be okay. I've met a lot of fucked up people in my time - ex-cons, monsters, addicts, and I could get them all in a room together and I wouldn't get more than one or two votes for "let's gang rape an eleven year old".

I will read this.
posted by doublehappy at 2:04 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


fraula, I don't think you understand what bicyclefish meant by "ideological or emotional criteria". I don't think I do either, but taking it in context, I don't think there is any reason to interpret the words as defense of rape, which you seem to have done.
posted by londonmark at 3:07 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


We have the same effed up media to blame for creating a world in which people have no problem making a video of themselves committing an utterly heinous crime. Were the perpetrators planning to put the video on YouTube and hope it went viral? Did those boys think the video would enhance their popularity among pre-teen girls hoping to get raped?

"Many in Cleveland are furious at the thought of such a horrific crime against such a young girl."

There's some interesting wording. It suggests that perhaps the actual end of the sentence got edited out: "but pretty much everybody else in town is fine with it."
posted by fuse theorem at 3:29 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the last link:

"It is not uncommon for those accused of rape to try and insinuate their victims somehow led them on to commit an act of sexual violence. Her skirt was too short. She was flirtatious. She said no, but she meant yes.

"It's a revolting strategy, and it sometimes works. But to insinuate such a thing in the alleged gang rape of a child is beyond the pale.

"Even some of Evans' fellow veteran defense attorneys, who make a living defending people accused of heinous crimes, were shocked at his comments.

"Jesus," said Patrick McCann, former president of the Harris County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. "That ain't the way to approach this."


Fuck you, Evans.
posted by bwg at 3:38 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I know people are understandably upset, but I have to wonder if using violent sexual language to express this isn't a bit insensitive in this case.

If caught wrong footed I would probably describe the perpetrators (and their apologists) as a bunch of fuckwitted motherfuckers who can go and fuck themselves. However when posting to Metafilter I have the time to refine my delivery and contemplate how I am expressing myself.

/a bit of beanplate
posted by asok at 4:10 AM on March 10, 2011


Sorry to dump on Texas, but come on. Their state government kill kids and retards for fun.

Much like James MicKinley, you're including things in your writing that really don't belong there. Hate Texas? Fine, but write about that somewhere else. This thread is about the horrible way the NYT reported on the gang-rape of a little girl. That's all.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:13 AM on March 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


If a journalist intended to write a balanced article, turned in this article, and an editor said "please balance out these quotes, the article seems one-sided", and the journalist was unable to find any quotes to do so, shouldn't the journalist have just said as much in the article? So as not to seem either lazy or unskilled?

And if a journalist wanted to train a sharper lens on the imbalance of opinion in a town that seems to be at best attempting to create emotional distance from the horror of what happened, and at worst rallying around the perpetrators as if they were victims themselves, there must certainly be better ways to do that than what was eventually published by the NYT. You don't have to spoon feed me, I get subtle - however, this was not that.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:27 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Shouldn't the journalist have just said as much in the article? So as not to seem either lazy or unskilled?"

In fairness, the reporter specifically refers to "one of a handful of neighbors willing to speak on the record." This is exactly what he's telling you -- available quotes from the locals were very, very limited.

That's not to say there aren't other major problems with the piece, but he does specifically address the unwillingness of almost all the neighbors to talk to him. Yes, he could have gotten an expert, all that is completely true. But he does explain one of the reasons why there aren't more/different quotes.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:11 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


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?"
James C. McKinley, Jr. is an asshole.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:13 AM on March 10, 2011


I was also reminded of the Glen Ridge case involving the sexual assault of an impaired minor. (Testing indicated she had the mental faculties and judgment of an 8-year-old). Glen Ridge is an exceptionally wealthy and almost wholly white community. When I was a kid, I spent many holidays and summer days visiting family who lived there. The town's preserved their gas lamps and shade trees and pre-War architecture, and the result is lovely. But the year after one of my cousins graduated, a large group of the most popular athletes in her school spent an afternoon raping their mentally handicapped classmate with a bat and a broom handle.

There is an exceptionally well reported book, Our Guys, about the case. Our Guys makes it clear that Glen Ridge had a problem long before that afternoon. The boys involved routinely and aggressively groped and catcalled their female classmates. One of them routinely exposed himself to girls in the hallways and even during classes. They were never disciplined for it by the school or their parents. When news of the rape broke, the overarching community/media narrative was that the victim was promiscuous and that she had asked for it -- that the truly tragic figures were the good young men who'd been drawn into an ugly situation.

So to be crystal clear: victim-blaming remains the prevailing narrative all over the US whether you live in a trailer or a three-story Queen Anne. It is the prevailing narrative whether you get the news from Fox or The New York Times. A majority of very highly educated and privileged people in Glen Ridge can believe that a minor with a 65 IQ consented to have a group of boys penetrate her with large blunt objects. A majority of poor and provincial people in Cleveland can believe that an 11-year-old wanted nearly 20 men and boys to assault her in a filthy trailer and film it with their cell phones.

Class and race frequently influence how well accused rapists are defended or how vigorously they are prosecuted. But it's still gender, and beliefs that are degrading and limiting to both sexes, that are the main story. Beliefs that are so powerful that lead people to say "the boys will have to live with this for the rest of their lives" after they form a gang to rape a little girl who was "dressed older than her age" -- and get quoted in the news without so much as a token opposition.

There are plenty of reasons that survivors of sexual assault don't report and most rapists never serve a day in jail. This is one of the ugliest ones.
posted by melissa may at 5:24 AM on March 10, 2011 [116 favorites]


Remember the name of this town, Cleveland, Texas. About 20 years from now, we're going to start seeing "News of the Weird" reports from this place about how all the teenage boys in the town seem to be going missing or turning up brutally murdered. Then Cassie Hack is going to show up, learn the town's secret shame and decide that the only way to end things is to burn the whole town down. The audience will cheer.

**********

On a darker note, if I was the father of one of the accused boys, I would have been very much praying for things to go this way.

Removed from the situation, I can see how horrific it is to blame a young girl for getting raped, but having spent some time in small towns, I can see the other side all too clearly.

Smaller towns tend to either go for blame the victim or brutally punish the transgressor(s) and never speak of it again. If I was the father and I was given the choice of seeing a young girl's life ruined (hell, she was probably wasn't going to amount to much anyway), or my precious son (football hero!) being hanged from a tall tree...Well that almost makes it my duty to malign the little trollop.
posted by BeReasonable at 5:44 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's necessarily victim-blaming to wonder how they might have been drawn into such a thing

It's probably unintentional, but to me this reads close to the definition of "victim-blaming". It seems to imply that the victim "drew" her rapists "into" raping her. Perhaps you meant something like "motivated?" An educated guess: They were "motivated" by the fact that they could put this girl in her place without any community consequences. And they were right.
posted by muddgirl at 5:46 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been in Cleveland, Texas, by the way. That whole section of the state from Houston north to Tyler is some bad times. I was only being Swiftian about the nuking the town thing above, but frankly it might not be a bad idea. Toxic racism, utterly close-minded right wing dominionist Christian politics, ecological devastation from the oil and chemical businesses, and a hardness of spirit that makes strangers want to move on and even slightly ambitious locals want to get the fuck out. One of America's really bad parts.

Which is why it has always been a kind of cosmic irony when these kids wind up fighting in Afghanistan... I think even the climate is similar.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:01 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"These guys knew she was in middle school," she said. "You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears." Where's that quote in the Times story?

From the Salon.com article. As far as the balanced journalism discussion etc - this quote seems to answer a lot of the conjecture about the journalist. Why not quote the mother who was amply quoted elsewhere?

It was lazy poor reporting. It wasn't a case of not being able to find balancing information / quotes.

As far as the rest goes - may that little girl find peace and may the rapists burn in hell.
posted by ten year lurk at 6:02 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just to take a slightly different slant, I don't think the reporter should have found quotes to balance the vile victim-blaming poison. If that's what he found then it is. I'm tired of journalism that equates "truth" with "balance" or NPOV. If everyone you can find says "X," then report that everyone you can find says "X." If Cleveland is a soulless, evil place, place, report that. Don't balance it to make this town appear like something it isn't.

But if everyone in this town blames the victim in that way, then that becomes the story to me. You report the quotes you have, but you need to contextualize them. "Shockingly, " you say, "the people of Cleveland seem more concerned about the impact to the young men recorded on camera raping an 11 year old child. People who feel that child rapists need to be punished by the law are hard to find here." If you repeat vile poison without comment, you seem like you're endorsing it.

And Jesus, in 2010, Cleveland still calls a a neighborhood the Quarters?
posted by tyllwin at 6:04 AM on March 10, 2011 [22 favorites]


There are plenty of reasons that survivors of sexual assault don't report and most rapists never serve a day in jail. This is one of the ugliest ones.

When I read the story, I just kept thinking, if it weren't for cellphone pictures, they'd have gotten away with it and there would have just been a damaged girl carrying this terrible shit around inside her for the rest of her life.
I'd bet the only qualms any of those assholes had was that they might get caught, not that they were doing this to a goddamn child.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:05 AM on March 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


NYT: maligning the little trollop since 1851
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:11 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I first read this story in the Houston & Texas news where they found citizens who aren't monsters:

"I have a granddaughter that age and can't imagine anything like that happening to her," he said. "Whoever did this should pay for it."

But what really jumped out at me there was that "Child Protective Services put the girl in a foster home for her protection and restricted her family from even speaking to her" I'm sorry what? The girl needs her mom and family now more than ever!

plus I am hanging onto this little bit of for dear life. I hope the little girl does well.
However, the 11-year-old, who was withdrawn from Cleveland schools when the videos surfaced, is enrolled in gifted and talented classes at her new school and is "doing fine," Maria said.
posted by dabitch at 6:13 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


When they point out how she allegedly dressed old for her age or how she allegedly tried to roll with an older crowd, there is a bizarre/awful implication that girls who actually are 15 should expect to be raped by the young men of Cleveland, TX as a matter of course.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:14 AM on March 10, 2011 [33 favorites]


"You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears."

nympho tween furry destroys small town reputation
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 6:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think the read-between-the-lines that the NYT article was getting at, albeit in a sloppy and victim blaming fashion, was that of the 18 victims some of the perpetrators were very, very young themselves. So where do you put an 11-12 year old who participates in this? A victim themselves of older boys pushing them to do things? I would say, certainly just by the age, yes. That does not absolves them of guilt, of course, but does add a murky line between victim and assailant. I would not be surprised if they showed similar signs of post-traumatic stress, etc.

I really think this is where the quotes of, "All those poor boys having their lives ruined!" come from. There's very little sympathizing with a 26 year old ring leader, but for a 12 year old who could very well have been dragged along and just showed up in the video? I stress that I'm not trying to minimize the girl's victim status, this is just a really bad situation, all around.
posted by geoff. at 6:32 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


But what really jumped out at me there was that "Child Protective Services put the girl in a foster home for her protection and restricted her family from even speaking to her" I'm sorry what? The girl needs her mom and family now more than ever!

Not if, for example, the rape investigation made it clear that her family isn't providing a safe and loving environment.

When I was a "tween" and then through my teenage years, I always knew a couple of very sexually precocious 11/12/13 year old girls. They dated much (often MUCH) older men, came from families which couldn't manage to place structure on their lives, and were making all kinds of bad decisions. It was just sort of part of the normal background of living in a smaller town, and I never really thought anything about it at the time.

In the last three years, there have been two of those same kind of young girls in my neighborhood here -- they really stand out among their much more childlike peers -- whose fathers have been arrested for molestation (and in both cases, convicted for very long prison spells). That's nothing more than anecdote, but it has made me wonder if the girls I knew when I was young were also coming from tough families where boundaries weren't appropriate and age-inappropriate sexuality was rewarded.

And equally, about the family environments that the boys/men who committed the rapes came out of. It's no excuse for rape, but I do think that there is usually a context for these things, and a long-term escalation of behaviors that culminate in the rape, rather than begin with it.

Just to take a slightly different slant, I don't think the reporter should have found quotes to balance the vile victim-blaming poison. If that's what he found then it is. I'm tired of journalism that equates "truth" with "balance" or NPOV. If everyone you can find says "X," then report that everyone you can find says "X." If Cleveland is a soulless, evil place, place, report that. Don't balance it to make this town appear like something it isn't.

I totally agree. There's no need for fake balance -- make the story about what is actually happening. But the Times piece doesn't read like that; it seems more sensationalistic and weirdly one-sided, rather than self-aware and insightful.
posted by Forktine at 6:40 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


[few comments removed - we don't do that ironic "they were asking for it" stuff here.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:48 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


If some of the boys were 12, I don't think that it minimizes the girl's injury at all to try and draw a distinction between them and the older boys. If the people of Cleveland blame an older ringleader both for raping the girl and for, well, for lack of a better word, corrupting, the boys, then the Times needs to make that clear, as well as providing some insight into whether that's an accurate portrayal of what happened.

If the Times wants to be more authoritative than Joe's Blog, they can't phone it in like this.
posted by tyllwin at 6:48 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


The New York Times article is fine. I don't want a "balanced" view. I don't want to know that there are normal people in this town, I assume there are. I don't want to read some idiot tell me that "you could tell she was 11." No shit. There isn't an 11 yr old on earth who could pass for 20. They didn't rape her because she looked twenty, they raped her because she looked 11 and in their shitkicker hillbilly brains they thought they had a clever excuse by saying she dressed older. It's like when moronic mafia guys try buy mansions and try to fool the feds by putting it in the name of their 80 mother living in a nursing home. Guess what, asshole, the cops aren't as stupid as you are.

The article does not need quotes that demonstrate the existence of common sense, humanity, and reason in that town. I assume it's there. What I need the Times for is to uncover evidence of the abudance of abnormal people there. I need their names and identities recorded on the internet for all time. The reporter is not at fault for not including a quote from an appalled resident. The reporter is at fault for not duping the rape apologists in the town into elaborating on their crazy statements. The reporter should have followed-up with deliberately leading questions like "So do you think in a way that she tricked them into raping her?" You know that if the reporter asked this question, they'd get more than a few people answering "Oh, yes, definitely." Those people obviously need to be stripped of their rights and sent to the gulag, but now we can't because they're on their guard.

This is not a story about the Times failure to be balanced. There is no balance. The story should have been "Holy Fuck Everyone in this Town Needs Immediate Electroshock Therapy"
posted by Pastabagel at 6:51 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


was that of the 18 victims

Err, 18 assailants is what I meant to say.
posted by geoff. at 6:59 AM on March 10, 2011


The NYTimes article, in addition to reporting on the story in a victim-blaming way (or, if we're being generous and assuming difficulty in finding non-victim-blaming comments, failing to report accurately on a town's misogyny), exhibited some weird classism, too, that I haven't seen called out yet. As melissa may mentioned upthread, gang rapes happen in all sorts of communities. Yet the NYTimes article in this instance (and a number of the other articles too) seem to get caught up on how "squalid" the abandoned trailer was that the gang rape ended up in. For all of the links here that have photos, the photo is of the trailer. Would the gang rape of an 11-y.o. have been not-as-bad if it happened in a nice, clean mansion or something?!(*) Not that I'd expect class-sensitive reporting from the NYTimes, but it, along with the victim-blaming, was pretty blatant in this article. The Falkenberg opinion piece from the Houston Chronicle briefly mentions that there may be a racial component to the whole situation as well.

(*) Perhaps local residents have been concerned about crime occurring in that particular abandoned property for a while now (there was some allusion to it being a common site for drug activity in one of the links), and this is just the latest, and so a reporter could write a story about the location itself ("gang rape the latest outrage committed in an abandoned property that local residents have been trying to get taken care of for a while now"?), in addition to the story about the gang rape. That's not the direction that the NYTimes article took, though.
posted by eviemath at 7:10 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


In addition to all of the things that are already hideous about this crime, there is also the fact that, in a gang scenario such as this, many of these boys, especially the younger ones, wound up doing something that they would never have done by themselves. Now not only have they committed a heinous crime, but this fight to demean their accuser in order to avoid facing appropriate consequences will probably harden their hearts forever.

This doesn't really let them off the hook, but on the off-chance that you weren't depressed by enough things today, there's always that to ponder.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:13 AM on March 10, 2011


I want to know why 18 people think this is ok to do this in front of each other, call each other over to participate, take pictures, etc. So sad and disgusting. I also want to know why porn is becoming more and more violent and acceptable (and wanted) to repeat scenarios like this.
posted by stormpooper at 7:18 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't help but think that if this story had been reported about some village in Pakistan, there'd be a bunch of comments about savage and backwards Muslim culture. In the US, though -- an aberration, and nothing to do with the culture as a whole.
posted by empath at 7:20 AM on March 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


It seems to me that the younger boys, btw, might be just as much victims as the girl in question, no?
posted by empath at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


shitkicker hillbilly brains

Geography Fail.
posted by Dano St at 7:23 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


I can't help but think that if this story had been reported about some village in Pakistan, there'd be a bunch of comments about savage and backwards Muslim culture. In the US, though -- an aberration, and nothing to do with the culture as a whole.

There are many remarks in this thread about Texas being shitty and Cleveland, TX being especially shitty and everyone in the town being a monster.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:25 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Forktine - I keep thinking about girls I knew like that also. As I've gotten older I've started to realize why their mom's boyfriends creeped me out. There was always such a weird intimacy between the girls and the adult male in their house, flirting and weirdness. Sometimes the creeps would try to flirt but i wouldn't go for it (I didn't stand up for myself, I was just too shocked and embarassed to respond) and they would tease me and not let up. I can't imagine what it must have been like to grow up like that.

I was able to go home and make a choice to not go to their house when the creep was around. Those girls were not so lucky.

This was when I was about 11-13, before highschool. These girls actively sought older guys because it's what they learned as appropriate behavior. I'm not at all blaming victim, just saying that these girls didn't know better.
The one girl I knew...her mom ended up having a kid with one guy and then getting a new boyfriend a bit later. I remember stopping by to say hi one day when I was like 15. I didn't hang out with the girl as much anymore since she chose to go to the votech high school. But a few times a year we'd go down to ice cream shop or whatever.

I don't remember much else about this visit except that the younger kid, a maybe 2 year old girl, would jump on top of this boyfriend and writhe her little body on him while making kiss noises at him and making little moany noises. They all thought it was funny and called it her "love scenes" cause she was imitating movie scenes.

By that age I was still pretty naive but I felt so uncomfortable I found a reason to leave right away. It may sound innocuous but I assure you
it was not. I've been around enough kids over the years since to realize it was not appropriate behavior.

I wish I knew back then what I undertsand now and that I would've reported it. I feel guilty about it whenever I think of her. I never hung out with that gil again. But it was years till I could articulate why. I'm sure stuff like this was in the news but I just had no way to parse what I saw and felt at the time.

I certainly hope that this girl in texas continues to do well in her classes and thrive in her new foster home.
I hope she gets all the help she need.

I hope the little girl I feel guilty about it never had to worry about anything worse than what I saw.
posted by sio42 at 7:29 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


In addition to all of the things that are already hideous about this crime, there is also the fact that, in a gang scenario such as this, many of these boys, especially the younger ones, wound up doing something that they would never have done by themselves.

Yes, that is an aspect of rape culture. We perpetuate it the same way we perpetuate any other sort of culture - we teach it to our children, both girls and boys. This case is a perfect example and a perfect opportunity for a paper like the NYT to examine all the ways that some children are trained to be rapists while others are trained to be victims.
posted by muddgirl at 7:42 AM on March 10, 2011 [21 favorites]


"These girls actively sought older guys because it's what they learned as appropriate behavior. I'm not at all blaming victim, just saying that these girls didn't know better. "

Define "sought older guys?" I have seen some girls seek older guys for the reasons you mention. I've also seen older guys prey on girls who have become accustomed to being preyed on.

Sometimes there's a clear line and sometimes it's just how you define it.

Also: there is a point at which you realize you are more fucked up than other people, when people fuck with you like that, for some people--- it's like it becomes a part of you, they train that to be a part of you and you can't erase it.

Maybe they know that even though those older guys will do certain things to them--- they will also be accepted even though they are fucked up and broken inside. Maybe they can't find that with other people.

there are a lot of possibilities but I don't think it's a simple as "this is just a behavior that some women who have been abused in their youth exhibit." There's a lot more going on, because look at how our culture views rape victims?

If you can tell you society thinks you're a piece of shit for stuff that happens to you, you might self identify as being the same piece of shit as the person who did whatever. Plus you might have felt thier guilt and seen their humanity despite doing something horrible and in wanting to still care about them you equally become bad. And figure that that is where you belong with people like that. Because you aren't good enough to be with all those good people who didn't bring terrible things on themselves.

___I'm pretty sure I'm struggling to articulate myself here--- but I hope that people will consider the many complicated reasons that girls who are abused as children may find themselves in similar future situations without just assuming that they are incompetant to understand that it's messed up. That can be the problem, but if shit like that happens when you're young you are carfully trained NOT to tell anyone else. You don't not know it's fucked up. You just don't know how to get out and that world becomes your reality and the only place that you are home.
posted by xarnop at 7:47 AM on March 10, 2011 [16 favorites]


Xarnop...exactly. I was struggling with being articulate. You got it. Much better said.
posted by sio42 at 7:53 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the anger at the New York Times reporter is misplaced here. I'd presume that he simply reported what people in the town said. My anger instead is at the headline writer, who failed to title this article "Texas Town Shows Deep Support for Gang-Rape of Child."
posted by rusty at 8:07 AM on March 10, 2011 [14 favorites]


The NYTimes article, in addition to reporting on the story in a victim-blaming way (or, if we're being generous and assuming difficulty in finding non-victim-blaming comments, failing to report accurately on a town's misogyny), exhibited some weird classism, too, that I haven't seen called out yet.

For all that I'm upset with the rape-supporting, slut-shaming (of an 11-year-old! what?), etc. in the story, I couldn't help but notice this. Apart from the fact that there's clearly a racial component to the support for the victims--one of the Chronicle articles mentions Quanell X is about to stick his nose in, which means the defendants he's supporting are almost certainly black and the girl is probably white--I felt the distinct desire to punch the NYT writer a second time for basically going "look at the rural yokels hating on an 11-year-old gang-rape victim" after wanting to punch him for hating on an 11-year-old gang-rape victim.

For that matter, the NYT article is shitty, shitty reporting for not getting into the racial issues and linking them to the way the community is responding to the situation on top of everything else. Unless a reader digs deeper, it's easy to go with the default assumption that rural Texans are white and so are the defendants and their supporters. If we notice who's black and who's white, we might have to examine, for instance, why a black community might have problems with local law enforcement scooping up a bunch of young black men and blaming them for the gang rape of a white girl.

And yes, add me to the pile of 11-year-old girls who were hit on by college students, at Disney World in my case. Fortunately my parents were there to protect me and not embarrass me, or him, by revealing my actual age. The guy probably didn't mean anything and had no idea how young I was, but you never know. The number of women reporting being hit on at 11 would be shocking except for the part where it's absolutely not.
posted by immlass at 8:32 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yes, that is an aspect of rape culture. We perpetuate it the same way we perpetuate any other sort of culture - we teach it to our children, both girls and boys. This case is a perfect example and a perfect opportunity for a paper like the NYT to examine all the ways that some children are trained to be rapists while others are trained to be victims posted by muddgirl at 10:42 AM on 3/10[ 6 favorites -] Favorite added! [!]

The girls I'm talking about were indeed taught to be to victims and prey. Putting it in those terms does make it even more sick, because it helps me frame the behavior of the mothers of the girls I knew. I couldn't figure out to say they encouraged certain behaviors, but that's it...the mothers encouraged them to be victims. I'm sorry this happened, to anyone and especially this 11 yo gir, but I'm glad to have had something click in my head to allow the vague and heavy uneasiness to begin transforming into a more focused...I'm not sure of the right word now. but being able to say they were taught to be victims and prey is much better than a rambling remembrance of 20 years ago.

I'm afraid of being further inarticulate with anything else I might say since it is not something I've ever even attempted to articulate before today. This incident just brought those girls to mind and heart after all these years.
posted by sio42 at 8:49 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "victim blaming" link (Falkenburg article) indicates that "the victim is Hispanic while all of her alleged attackers are black."
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:50 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just let the NYT public editor know why the McKinley article is a crappy and shallow piece of work, since it's his job to deal with this sort of thing. Yet another shining moment in the recent history of the venerable Times.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:57 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we just have a new media now? Please?

Part of me wants to see Jon Stewart rip on the NYT and McKinley over this until they cry (like he did with Kramer). The other part of me fears that it'll only put more attention on the victim when the media promptly jumps all over the story of Stewart going after them, because they'll STILL make an epic failure out of it and heap more blame on the victim.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:59 AM on March 10, 2011


This incident just brought those girls to mind and heart after all these years.

No, you are being perfectly articulate. It's one of those things where when I realized what was going on, I started to see it everywhere, like in this anecdote:
As I was telling this story to the spouse tonight, it occurred to me that by saying that where Robin could hear her, her mother was basically telling her, "You don't get to opt out of spending time with someone because he makes you uncomfortable."
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Every aspect of this story, from the event itself to the nauseating victim blaming quotes from the townsfolk to the New York Times article--all of it will haunt my soul for a long, long time. I work as a rape crisis volunteer and sometimes feel as though I'm pissing in a wind tunnel. I get frustrated with paperwork and bored in trainings. But then I read about this entire failure of humanity and I feel two things: completely hopelessly sick of rape culture. And a renewed energy to dedicate myself to this work. Because as an advocate for the survivor at the hospital, I am frequently her only companion. And the only one who can offer some form of help in the form of information and advocacy. That I am able to, in a small practical way stand up against this wailing tide of shit and offer a steady hand someone in this kind of situation--well, it makes me want to work 20 times harder. Please see your way clear to donating to the rape crisis center in your city. It is almost guaranteed they need it.
posted by hecho de la basura at 9:28 AM on March 10, 2011 [26 favorites]


hecho: thank you for what you do and for being who you are.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:39 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


The "victim blaming" link (Falkenburg article) indicates that "the victim is Hispanic while all of her alleged attackers are black."

Which is, still, a detail that you would never have picked up from the NYT report on the case; you have to find that out in an opinion piece from the Chronicle (where I missed it, to be sure). But we're all post-racial and stuff since Obama was elected president, so I guess that doesn't matter.
posted by immlass at 9:40 AM on March 10, 2011


FYI, the NYT has an ombudsman.

Contact info:
E-mail: public@nytimes.com

Phone: (212) 556-7652

Address: Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018
posted by Aizkolari at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2011


It's probably unintentional, but to me this reads close to the definition of "victim-blaming". It seems to imply that the victim "drew" her rapists "into" raping her. Perhaps you meant something like "motivated?"

Nope, it was completely intentional as written, just as I suspect it was in the NYT article. It is a loaded phrase. That's why I'm not upset that when you quoted me you omitted the great big qualifier I wrote before I used it. I don't mean to argue about it, because for the most part I agree with you. But I suspect you'd also agree with me that rapists are not drawn in by their victims. If we take that as a given, and we also assume that men and boys are not predisposed to do this sort of horrible thing, then I think it's completely reasonable to wonder what exactly did draw these eighteen men and boys in.

I think there is probably more exposing reader bias and channeling justifiable outrage at play here than some people may want to admit. Whether that's good journalism or not is questionable, but it's certainly effective. In either case, it's not a hill I'm going to choose to die on.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2011


There is a response from the Times in a Yahoo blog post:

The Times responded Wednesday evening to The Cutline: "Neighbors' comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk," said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for the paper. "As for residents' references to the accused having to 'live with this for the rest of their lives,' those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter's reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old."

Rhodes Ha also stressed that the paper stands by the controversial piece.

"We are very aware of and sensitive to the concerns that arise in reporting about sexual assault," Rhoades Ha said. "This story is still developing and there is much to be learned about how something so horrific could have occurred."

posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:03 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I suspect you'd also agree with me that rapists are not drawn in by their victims. If we take that as a given, and we also assume that men and boys are not predisposed to do this sort of horrible thing, then I think it's completely reasonable to wonder what exactly did draw these eighteen men and boys in.

But I don't think we have to wonder. We know pretty much exactly why people who "are not predisposed" to rape commit acts of rape. It's because we teach them that it's OK.
posted by muddgirl at 10:05 AM on March 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


And furthermore, studies show that "drawn in" is the opposite of what occurs - in general, rapists will groom their victims in advance (I suppose you could say that the victim is "drawn in" to a situation where he or she is set up to be raped and to give the rapist plausible deniability). I suspect that at least one of the men who perpetrated this attack is a serial rapist who has groomed both the victim and some of the other perpetrators in advance of this crime.
posted by muddgirl at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


If this hadn't been a metafilter FPP I would have stopped reading when I got to the quote:

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

... which is around the fourth paragraph. There is absolutely nothing that could have redeemed the article after it let that pass without comment.

I say "around the fourth paragraph" because suddenly the NYT wants a password to view the article, so I can't check.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2011


My aunt was raped and murdered when she was about this age. Before I came around, obviously. Recently, in conversation with the parents of a friend I've had since childhood, I discovered his mother was a school-mate of my deceased aunt. The first details of the tragedy she offered up (possibly the only ones she can recall) were, in essence, 'she was running a sex club.' I immediately responded that such a thing was ridiculous to believe, and she curtly agreed. But, yeah, it was clear who she really believed was at fault. Pretty fucking awful.

From doing my own research I know that the fellow that raped and killed her, an older school-mate, was never charged with anything. But my grandparents were demeaned and humiliated seemingly without restraint, judging from the newspaper articles of the time. My aunt was born with a cleft-palate and struggled with acceptance her entire, brief life.

This is where we live, folks. And we can do better.
posted by fartknocker at 10:49 AM on March 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wroksie: When I remember myself at eleven, I remember being desperate to look sexy and older.

Yep, me too. Especially in that age range. I'll never forget that Judy Bloom in one of her YA books called them "the ugly years." Reading that, at that age, hit me hard. Experimenting with the trappings of sexy-ness was a way to fight the overwhelming tide of feeling worthless for being ugly. The underlying lessons that "sexualization = value or validation [of some sort, even if twisted and dysfunctional]" start early.

Way early. I remember about fifteen years ago, a grandmother told me about babysitting her 3-year-old granddaughter. They were out for a walk. They saw firemen across the street. I can't remember what she said they were doing, but they were working at some task (not as urgent as putting out a fire, but not lounging around either).

Granddaughter: "Let's go talk to them!"

Grandmother: "Oh, I don't think we should bother them."

Granddaughter: "But I want to talk to them!"

Grandmother, teasingly: "Do you think they want to talk to you?"

Granddaughter: "They would if I put makeup on!"
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:14 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


James D. Evans III, an attorney who represents three of the defendants, insists: "This is not a case of a child who was enslaved or taken advantage of."

Are you fucking kidding me?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Goddammit Metafilter, I was having such a good morning too.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:20 AM on March 10, 2011


It seems to me that the younger boys, btw, might be just as much victims as the girl in question, no?

No.

They [probably] aren't psychopaths and were led to do something that alone they never would have done. But no, the 12 year old boys caught up in a group dynamic to gang rape an 11 year old girl are not as much victims as she was.
posted by girih knot at 11:24 AM on March 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Smaller towns tend to either go for blame the victim or brutally punish the transgressor(s) and never speak of it again. If I was the father and I was given the choice of seeing a young girl's life ruined (hell, she was probably wasn't going to amount to much anyway), or my precious son (football hero!) being hanged from a tall tree...Well that almost makes it my duty to malign the little trollop.

If you're trying to be funny, you failed.

If you're not, then you would be a failure as a parent and a monster to boot.

Let's hope you just have a crappy sense of humor.
posted by emjaybee at 11:28 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is where we live, folks. And we can do better.
posted by fartknocker at 1:49 PM on March 10


No "we" can't. The world did not accidentally end up like this. It is like this because the people in it want it this way.

I'm very sorry about your aunt. But I want to point something out to you.

'she was running a sex club.' I immediately responded that such a thing was ridiculous to believe, and she curtly agreed.

Your response here was well-intentioned but misses the point. To a person like this mom whose defective mental apparatus allows them to carry around in their heads the belief that a little girl was somehow running a sex club, the statement they needed to hear was: Even if that was true, running a sex club at age 11 does not justify being raped. You have to concede to their version of the facts and still explain that their conclusion does not follow.

That mom you spoke to believed that "if she ran a sex club, her rape is justified/expected/deserved." (take your pick, they are all functionally the same). You refuted her premise "Of course she didn't run a sex club!", but you left the logic intact. The logic has to be spun around: if she was raped, she didn't deserve it.

If you want to change things, you have to demolish entire sections of our culture. And that is going to take centuries. How are you going to convince those men who think that just because they buy dinner for a woman doesn't mean she has to put out? How are you going to convince the women in marriages who withhold sex as punishment or offer sex as a reward for acts of the husbands unrelated to their relationship, like doing chores? All of that is part of it.

There is a company whose slogan today is "Every Kiss Begins With Kay." Kay is a jeweler. We have a long way to go.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:41 AM on March 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


They [probably] aren't psychopaths and were led to do something that alone they never would have done. But no, the 12 year old boys caught up in a group dynamic to gang rape an 11 year old girl are not as much victims as she was.

I'm not quite sure how you can be so clear about that. If an adult got a 12 year old boy to have sex with him, the 12 year old boy is clearly a victim, consent or no.

If he got two 12 year old boys to have sex with him, they'd both be victims.

But if it's an 11 year old girl and a 12 year old boy, then it's a cut and dried case that the 12 year old boy is a rapist and only the 11 year old girl is a victim?
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on March 10, 2011


my 11-14 year old brother threatened to cut me up into 100 pieces and put me in garbage bags. he told me if i ever told, our family would be destroyed and it'd be all my fault. he told me i asked for it, he told me i agreed to it, he would use me giving in last time as a reason to coerce me the next time. i don't really have much sympathy for the position that the 12 year old boys are just as much victims as the girl. that sort of evil can start from a very young age.
posted by nadawi at 11:47 AM on March 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


But if it's an 11 year old girl and a 12 year old boy, then it's a cut and dried case that the 12 year old boy is a rapist and only the 11 year old girl is a victim?

If we knew for a fact in this case that the adults in the group were threatening violence against the 12 year old boys for not raping the girl, that would be one thing. We don't know that. All we know is that the 12 year old boys weren't the ones alone on the couch in a trailer while people took turns raping them.

And yeah, a 12 year old doesn't have the same capacity for reason as an adult, but pretty much every 12 year old knows rape is an evil thing.
posted by girih knot at 12:04 PM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, I never said they weren't in any way victims, but I don't think they're as much victims as the 11 year old girl getting gang raped was. I realize it's not a victimhood contest but you pretty much can't out-victim an 11 year old child getting gang raped.
posted by girih knot at 12:09 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


So the answer is, we don't know. They might be. Which is what I said.
posted by empath at 12:09 PM on March 10, 2011


Various reports indicate that the youngest alleged rapist (so far) is a 14 year old middle-school student. Which is apropos of nothing in particular, just a factual note.

It surprises me that the feds aren't all over this case -- or maybe they are and it just hasn't hit the news yet -- because of the "producing and distributing child pornography" angle of those photos and videos.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:13 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


So the answer is, we don't know. They might be. Which is what I said.

No, you painted it as black or white. Either they're completely blameless victims, or completely horrible rapists. You are correct that we don't know, but you're eliminating a whole lot of middle ground in terms of the shades of grey.
posted by Tknophobia at 12:15 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the answer is, we don't know. They might be. Which is what I said.

I dunno, man.

I ask myself the question: "Were they gang-raped at 11?"

If the answer is 'no,' then no, they're probably not "as much" victims.
posted by Myca at 12:18 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think every human being that commits heinous acts is led to committing those acts by an entire chain of events in their lives in such a way that you could call every criminal a victim. "There but for the grace of God, go I," you know?

But there's a power dynamic between someone doing the raping and someone being raped, and it makes me slightly sick to my stomach to make the comparison of their victimizations. I don't care if the youngest boys there were being cajoled or threatened. They still should have known better. If they'd have said no and been beaten or raped themselves, then they'd be as much victims as the girl.
posted by girih knot at 12:22 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


You guys are hanging a lot of semantic weight on 'as much as'.
posted by empath at 12:25 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


even if they were gang raped as 11 year olds (or younger, or touched by an uncle, or whatever) - they're still rapists here. they were victims in their situation, they became rapists in this situation.

i would wager that there is awful shit in every single rapist's past. that doesn't make them victims when they visit that upon someone else.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 PM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Then forget the "as much as." No, they aren't victims, no more than any single one of us is a victim of society or some bullshit like that.
posted by girih knot at 12:26 PM on March 10, 2011


You guys are hanging a lot of semantic weight on 'as much as'.

Well, yeah, because it's what you said.

I'll happily concede that if the 14 year old rapist was coerced into this, especially by threats, he's a victim ... but at the most exculpatory, he's both a victim and a rapist, and that's a world apart from what she went through.
posted by Myca at 12:27 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


As has been mentioned, this isn't a victim contest. I imagine the value of what empath is trying to communicate is that a grown-ass man who rapes an 11-year-old girl is a waste of space such that I have to rely on the higher thinking part of my brain to stop from calling for euthanasia and going on about how grimly content it makes me right now to know that prison inmates go through what is essentially tortue.

That's because the rest of my lizard brain is thinking, what on earth could this person possibly offer the rest of us that would offset what they have done? And how on earth can they pay for what they have taken except through their own suffering? That part of me is wrong, but it feels. So. Right.

Whereas a 12-year-old perpetrator (and even 14-year-old, as is apparently the case here) is perhaps worthy of sympathy along with castigation, and intensive years of therapy instead of punishment. Even my lizard brain thinks that redemption should be the primary goal when dealing with such a person, not punishment.

That is the value I see in taking the time to assert that it is possible to be a perpetrator and a victim all at the same time, particularly when young. This shouldn't dominate the conversation, and it doesn't apply to everyone involved, but it's not detracting from that little girl's plight to make it a part of the conversation and acknowledge that there are some shades of gray involved.

Child soldiers in Africa perform despicable acts. But they are not the primary source of their own evil, and in my mind, their circumstances and age place limits on their culpability that would not otherwise exist.
posted by jsturgill at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I learned one thing in all of this. Apparently there is a recent U. S. Supreme Court decision (Kennedy v. Louisiana) which has suspended the application of the Texas statute where forcible rape of someone under the age of 14 can get you the death penalty. When I read the story in the New York Times (I agree is it rage-inducing) what I wondered the most is: how many of those guys are going to get the needle?
posted by bukvich at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2011


I do think there is a very interesting story that could be written about the community. I would like to know what is going on in that community that an 11 year old rape victim has had to flee into hiding for her safety. I would like to know what is going on that so many members of the basketball team are rapists that the team starts losing games when they are removed. I would like to know how a video showing the rape of a little girl could be widely disseminated with only one person coming forward. I want to know if there is pressure on this girl and her family from the community.

Unfortunately, the Times article frames the arrests as being traumatic to the community, but that doesn't even scratch the surface.
posted by Danila at 1:36 PM on March 10, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'm always a little challenged when people tell me how I ought to have responded to an incident, doubly so since I was challenged at the time, too. And I'm grateful for your advice, Pastabagel.

You start rather negatively, if you'll excuse me saying so: No "we" can't. Makes it sound like you don't feel you can help. But you finish with: We have a long way to go. Seems sort of like you're agreeing with me there, and I'm going to cling to that belief. Furthermore, if it means we can stop endorsing rape, I am ready to demolish entire sections of our culture, as you suggest. And the next time I talk to the mom in question I will try to concede to her version of the facts and still explain that her conclusion does not follow, which will be hard because her premise makes me want to vomit.

And that is going to take centuries. I honestly believe we can do this quicker. Surely compared to the big issues of the day, starting to feel sympathy for rape victims instead of blaming them should be a mere bagatelle, no? Is that really such a sea-change of attitudes?

I'm very sorry about [whatever]. But... <--Don't do that. It simply does not make you sound sorry at all. Separate your contradiction from your platitude, use a different coordinating conjunction, or just word it differently and it'll make a big difference in your appearance of sincerity.
posted by fartknocker at 1:41 PM on March 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


I grew up in a small Texas town just like this one -- an hour away from a major city, working class population, and not only did everyone know everyone else's name, they knew which church they went to as well. When I was a freshman in high school, the local police department heard that some local kids were into drugs and Satanism. The drug was pot, and the Satanism was basically concert T-shirts from various metal bands. So they sent an undercover cop into the school to pose as a student. When the potheads in the Ozzy Osbourne shirts found out he was a narc, they shot him in the head and left him in a field.

It was a horrible thing. The news was shocking. It was something that most people thought only happened in other places. It's the sort of thing that makes you question and even doubt what can reality be called 'your reality,' and that's a really uncomfortable place to find yourself when you've led such a sheltered life (by choice) and you're not used to it.

Then came the media frenzy. That little town that no one had ever heard of before was suddenly in the national news. Every night. News vans were parked outside the high school and the local grocery store. Someone would come up to you in a parking lot and introduce himself and, lo, he wasn't just being Texas-friendly, he was a wire service reporter. The town had always been known for its major industry and its perpetually losing football team. Then it became known as the town where the high school kids killed the undercover cop.

There were maybe fewer than 10 people involved in the whole thing. Everyone else was horrified and mortified and helpless to change the events and their outcome.

You wouldn't have known that from reading the papers or watching the story on Hard Copy or, slightly more reputable, Nightline.

The utterly despicable thing that happened in Cleveland happened in November. From what I can tell, it's just being reported now? It would absolutely be nice if the reportage had a different tone. But you also have to understand that there's a very short distance from "Oh god, I can't believe this happened here. How awful. Why did this have to happen?" to "Oh god, I can't believe this happened here, and now everyone is looking at us."

The people of Cleveland probably are defensive, because what they're reading about themselves isn't true. It's probably not a community that, by and large, is glib and dismissive when an 11-year-old is gang raped. And while the victim is the girl, not the perpetrator, and I'm not making any kind of argument otherwise, it's still a community where someone who is absolutely horrified about all this runs into the mother of one of the suspects -- an old church friend, say -- and has absolutely no clue what to say. This stuff is really hard in small towns.

Crimes like these, the culture that allows them to continue, and the framing of them in a way that makes them seem inevitable, must be talked about if we're ever going to figure out how to get it to stop. But you also have to realize that the spotlight is really, really harsh. Cleveland has been damaged by the fact that something this grotesque happened there. It will be damaged even more by the media coverage that misrepresents how the people there really feel.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:48 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]



Everyone is making an assumption that there were quotes available for the NYT article to be balanced with. And if there weren't?


Why didn't they fake it ?

I mean, it's The Times - making shit up is in their new employee training videos. It's part of the brand.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:05 PM on March 10, 2011


Danila - you mention that only one person came forward about the video. In one article, it says that an elementary school student told her teacher she recognized a classmate in the video.

This story has no end of messed-up-ness. How/why did another child come across this video? Gah. Good that she told smeone tho.
posted by sio42 at 3:16 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone is making an assumption that there were quotes available for the NYT article to be balanced with. And if there weren't?

I'm getting more and more upset about this "Heck, I just report what the people say" shuck and jive. If someone had burned down a synagogue and a reporter went out to gather quotes on how it was "affecting the community," and it turned out that the only five people who commented were anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, do you seriously believe the story would toss out all their most inflammatory quotes and paraphrased sentiments unframed with those weaselly gossipy "some said" attributions? Right.

As a reporter/editor/publisher, you can always look for a greater range of views or expert perspective. Or you can change the angle of the story. This NYT article could simply have reported the known facts and allegations of the case and outlined the furor in the community. Or you can decide that the material you have, by itself, would be irresponsible to publish.

Don't most journalism schools now have specific courses and guidelines in how to report crime, violence, sexual violence, trauma involving children? Here's a conference paper from the Michigan State University School of Journalism Victims and the Media Program, for instance. Excerpt:

"Be especially sensitive to imputations of blame - Fortunately, we have come a long way since the days that rape reports regularly included mention of what the victim was wearing - but only if it was "scanty." Yet victims often question why certain details are used or how they are handled. If you mention that the victim had been drinking, does it imply that he or she was drunk? Reporting requires more than emptying your notebook, and editors should always fix their antennae to spot any inadvertent suggestion that the victim was at fault."
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:30 PM on March 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


muddgirl. Thanks for the excellent links you've provided.
posted by sio42 at 3:36 PM on March 10, 2011


They still should have known better.

Toni Morrison's Love includes a description of a gang rape from the perspective of Romen, a boy whose friends instigated it. He was "ready" to participate but when it was his turn, he untied the victim and got her out instead. I remember being impressed with how Morrison handled such a difficult subject. She makes the sickness of the system, within which boys and girls learn their gender roles, very clear. The system's participants and enforcers (his "friends") inflict harsh penalties on transgressors like him. As I read it, Morrison did a good job of capturing the complexities of the pressures on Romen and boys like him in that kind of situation. And she did it without diminishing the abhorrent nature of choices both to enthusiastically engage in criminal behaviour like this, and to keep quiet because of peer pressure and participate anyway.

Trigger warnings for potential readers of the book -- the scene happens in one of the earlier chapters, IIRC.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:55 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would like to know what is going on in that community that an 11 year old rape victim has had to flee into hiding for her safety.

This probably isn't especially unique to Cleveland, TX. Certainly in cases of domestic violence, often the women involved have to move and change communities. The impression that I have is that police don't seem very effective in protecting people against the threat of gender-based violence, in general.
posted by eviemath at 5:43 PM on March 10, 2011


I agree with you eviemath. I don't think any of it is unique to Cleveland, Texas. What I'd like to see is an examination in the mainstream press of this anti-victim, rape-coddling phenomenon. I mean, here were all of these victim-blaming quotes and here were the facts which indicate that the girl (and more recently, her whole family) had to flee the home because they were receiving constant threats. Since the Times article focuses on the community impact and reaction anyway, why not look at it from that angle?
posted by Danila at 6:35 PM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


On a side note, this thread is going surprisingly well. I wonder if that is partly because of how extreme the crime is and partly because of a heightened awareness of rape issues in general on MetaFilter following the dickwolves thread.
posted by jsturgill at 6:55 PM on March 10, 2011


jsturgill, I think you underestimate Metafilter. I don't think most commenters needed to be schooled by the 'dickwolves thread' to show compassion for an eleven year-old girl who has been raped.
posted by misha at 7:01 PM on March 10, 2011


Misha, that was pretty much what I was saying, yes. I had underestimated MetaFilter.
posted by jsturgill at 7:06 PM on March 10, 2011


This thread and event have approximately nothing to do with the dickwolves fiasco.
posted by Justinian at 10:16 PM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've been chewing on this sentence as it's been bugging me:
"The girls I'm talking about were indeed taught to be to victims and prey."

I'm thinking more along the lines of pavlov. A person especially at a young age and in under the guidance of a completely trusted adult can be trained to have an INVOLUNTARY response. This isn't a "go get some assertiveness trainging" and undo it kind of response. This becomes a primal conditioned reponse that predators can smell has been created in a person.

Further more if you look at research on the way brains of people who have been trained this way work--- the brain is physically different. As a protective and kind mechanism within the human brain, we have an off switch. We have a "this reality is too mother fucking fucked up and I'm going to shut down your cognitive abilities in order to protect you" mechanism within the brain.

The memory loss, cognitive malfunction, learning disabilities, and emotional disorders found in people who have been put through this stuff leave them vulnerable to being rejected by the very sort of people who would NOT hurt them further.

We biologically need intimacy with other humans. Isolation studies on animals have demonstrated that physically, the body begins to malfunction when we don't have the amount of intimacy we need. Resiliance studies all tend to find that the people who are resiliant hold on to any love that is available. Learning how to retrieve love from WHOEVER is there even if they are fucked up and hurting you-- is a survival skill.

And once you've learned how to get love form people who hurt you, you have a deficiency in obtaining love from people who won't hurt you. You don't have the skills, you don't understand the dynamic, and you are likely to be automatically rejected do to your insufficient ability to behave the way people normally behave in relationships.

Meaning if you want to obtain love, many people with such abuse issues can choose isolation or choose to obtain love from people who also offer harm.

Instead of pressuming the choice to take love from whoever is willing to offer it is a BAD choice-- it may in fact be an act of self love how ever fucked up it looks like to people on the outside. Learning how to dissociate from the part of you that is hurt by being a sex object and just role with it isn't sign of not caring about yourself. It may be the opposite.

I want to pull everyone that come out of only recieving love from harmful situations out and I fully believe that with support and self awareness and some fucking awesome people who are willing to be there for you even though you are fucked up and don't make sense to them--- people CAN come into experience love that does not require harm.

But I think helping people out requires an understanding that it may not be "the person" who is deficient in any way. The behaviors and survival techniques and conditioned responses and cognitive emotional dysfunction--- they might all be a part of that persons very meaningful and self caring process of surviving a dysfunctional environment.

I also have a bazillion links to studies on the way the brain responds to trauma and isolation, but it's farily easy research to find so I'm going to leave my statements as they are unless someone wants me to search through my hundreds of not well organized links to pull everything I said together with research. (Which I'm find with doing but I'm exhausted right now and in the middle of moving so I don't want to go through the pain of doing it if it isn't something anyone actually wants to look through.)
posted by xarnop at 12:34 PM on March 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


A response from the New York Times' Public Editor:

My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. The story dealt with a hideous crime but addressed concerns about the ruined lives of the perpetrators without acknowledging the obvious: concern for the victim...
posted by Danila at 4:06 PM on March 11, 2011


Itagain, xarnop, good stuff. I hope I didn't give the impression I meant they needed assertiveness training, but more like you said, that it becomes involuntary, that it's learned behavior.

You have obviously read a lot more about this than I have and I for one appreciate your insights since I feel like I'm fumbling for words to adequately express myself.
posted by sio42 at 6:33 PM on March 11, 2011


This probably isn't especially unique to Cleveland, TX. Certainly in cases of domestic violence, often the women involved have to move and change communities. The impression that I have is that police don't seem very effective in protecting people against the threat of gender-based violence, in general.
Why would you even want to live in that community?
posted by delmoi at 1:20 AM on March 13, 2011


What community? The one where rape is common and people blame rape victims? That's most of them.
posted by Danila at 1:24 PM on March 13, 2011


Stay classy, Florida:

One committee member, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) said she'd read recently a horrible story out of Texas about the rape of a young girl.

"There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," she said. "And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students."

posted by nicwolff at 3:13 PM on March 16, 2011


[Um, we don't make ironic "She was asking for it" jokes here, thanks. ]
posted by jessamyn at 6:14 PM on March 16, 2011


Follow-up story in today's NYT.
posted by rtha at 8:52 AM on March 29, 2011


thank you, rtha - I can't say it made me feel better to read that, but I'm glad that the story isn't being left where it was. The crimes were even more serious than originally believed. I don't generally pray, but I am sitting here today wishing I did, so that I could feel like I could do something for her.
posted by jb at 10:42 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yikes. The extra background on the alleged perpetrators makes the story more believable and horrific. Anyone who thinks clothes had anything to do with this needs to have their head examined.
posted by benzenedream at 5:13 PM on March 29, 2011


That was really sad. That poor family.
posted by Danila at 7:42 PM on March 29, 2011


WTF: The younger Rayford Ellis [who is 19 years old!] has fathered at least five children with four young women, according to paternity suits.
posted by nicwolff at 12:11 AM on March 31, 2011


Really thoughtful opinion piece in The Nation: "Cleveland, Texas and Gender Jim Crow".
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:45 PM on April 1, 2011


Whoops, that link should go here (content's the same, but this is the original Nation page rather than the CBS reprint).
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:47 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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