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What Kind of Sick Culture Blames an 11-Year-Old for Being Gang-Raped?

Recent coverage of a young girl's rape in Texas reveals our twisted assumptions about sexual violence.

The memories have faded, but still they float to the surface at times: being 12, 13, 14 years old in an insular West Texas town where you could walk from one end of town to the other in half an hour. Most walks home from the store or school were uneventful, but a handful of times, young men in their late teens or early 20s would slow their cars down and lean out the window while you walked. “Hey, why are you walking? Don’t you want a ride?” Faces full of concern they never seemed to have when dealing with young girls in any other setting. 

I always said no. I was too young to have any inkling of what could happen if I accepted, but I figured it was not likely to be good.

But one 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, a rural town in the eastern part of the state, did say yes to the ride. And what allegedly was done to her is the sort of thing that begs for an explanation. She was taken to one house and then to an abandoned trailer. She was threatened with violence if she didn’t comply. She was sexually assaulted by multiple men in their teens and 20s, some of whom recorded the event and posted it online. How could these young men allegedly do this?

The answer to that question lies in large part in attitudes unearthed in recent coverage that quotes accusations that the victim is to blame, and were reported, without comment, context and certainly no criticism, in the New York Times and in the Houston Chronicle.  

When the photos and videos of the alleged rape were discovered, the girl---not the accused, some of whom are the golden boys of the community---became such an object of hate and gossip that the authorities removed her from her home to a safe house, and are encouraging her family to relocate permanently. It seems that for many, the person who bears the blame for this alleged gang-rape is a girl still at the age when many are playing with Barbies. 

What could an 11-year-old girl do that would be so terrible she somehow deserved to be raped by at least 17 but as many as 28 men? Did she ax-murder a family? Burn down a city? Orchestrate a genocide? 

According to some members of the Cleveland, Texas community quoted in the New York Times and Houston Chronicle, she courted gang-rape by being on the verge of adolescence and striving to seem older than she was, a common enough behavior for girls that age. In both papers, much is made of the reputation of the alleged victim wearing makeup, dressing older than her age and currying favor from teenage boys. The Houston Chronicle dwelled extensively on the girl’s bragging about drinking, smoking and sex on her Facebook page, and also takes note of the alleged victim’s defensiveness in the face of so much community disapproval.   

Of course, when I was a 12-year-old girl and a man followed me as I was walking home from school, muttering dirty things under his breath and boring holes in me with his eyes, I was wearing my usual uniform of jeans and a sweatshirt, with sneakers and certainly no makeup. I didn’t even shave my legs. I escaped him by ducking into True Value and pretending to buy some tapes. The only “crime” a child who falls into the hands of a rapist has committed is to be unlucky, with no True Value nearby to escape to.  

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