here is the letter i just wrote to the NY times, because i’m sure it won’t wind up anywhere besides a virtual trash bin

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but i figured i’d share it with you, dear reader, and anyone else who cares. also, i hate everything. also, trigger alert.

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To Whom It May Concern:

I was saddened to read of the atrocity committed against an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, in your recent story “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town“. My sadness turned to anger when I read this paragraph in the story:

“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?’ “

These details about the victim’s life have nothing to do with the fact that she was raped. Whether or not she was dressing “too old for her age” is irrelevant to the story. The simple fact of a sixth-grader wearing makeup is NOT an indication that she’d like to have sex with any man who wants her.  To put it another way: it is extremely unlikely that anything she wore or did deliberately caused this to happen, because nobody wants to be raped by 18 people in an abandoned trailer. A girl should be able to wear what she wants, and hang out with whom she pleases, without being gang-raped. This should not be a radical concept.

The inclusion of these details in the Times’ article contributes to the general atmosphere of victim-blaming surrounding far too many rape/sexual assault cases–“she provoked it because she looks too sexy!” / “what was she doing hanging out there?” etc. I would hope that a respectable news source, such as the Times, would not add to this.

As to the comment asking where the child’s mother was…if there are any parents who should be ashamed, it’s the mothers and fathers of the 18 men who assaulted her. Why weren’t they ever taught that it’s not okay to have sex with children? Why weren’t they taught basic notions of right and wrong, or the meaning of “no”?

Ocean Capewell
Pittsburgh, PA

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5 responses »

  1. Very well said. The comments the paper published about her choice of clothes and makeup are absolutely irrelevant and only point towards one direction. Victim blaming- that she was partially responsible for getting raped, that she was asking for it by dressing that way. She’s a child for crying out loud! she did not want or ask to be raped, nobody does. It’s up to men not to rape, not up to women to try to avoid being raped by shutting themselves inside and making sure they look and feel a mess by not wearing makeup etc. Women should be able to wear what they like and go wherever they like without fear of being attacked. More importantly, rape is always the rapists fault!

    The comments about what her mother was thinking pisses me off, this kid got gang raped – what the hell were the rapists thinking?! “These boys have to live with this for the rest of their lives” and what about the victim having to live with the effects of this ordeal forever? Shouldn’t they be concentrating more on what the hell kind of culture brings young men up to think it’s okay to do this sort of thing and what the hell they were thinking while they were damaging a childs life forever.

  2. Thanks for writing this and sending it to them. For what it’s worth, I am pretty sure that someone in the newsroom read this, just like someone is reading all of the angry emails and letters and dealing with the phone calls and the petition and the bad press. I know that whenever we screw up and we are deluged with angry calls and emails, it has an affect on the way we handle something. You did the right thing in sending it.

    I also blogged about it, but from the perspective of someone who actually works in a newsroom, if you want to read it – http://constantcait.blogspot.com/2011/03/feminism-in-newsroom-and-everywhere.html

  3. Pingback: i have so much to share, no time to write a post…. « the sanest days are mad

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