We were horrified at L&P, as were most Americans, by the recent reports about the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas. Eighteen black men (several underage) are accused of raping an 11-year-old Latina in an abandoned trailer in this small, Texas town. The incident happened in November, but it’s taken a while for the story to go national. In the meantime it has divided this small town -- to some extent along racial lines -- and led to some fairly repulsive things being said about the victim.
We don’t know if all -- or any -- of the 18 men and juveniles arrested in this case are guilty. It’s important that we allow the justice system to run it’s course because they are, after all, innocent until proven guilty. However, our writing staff at L&P is disturbed by the number of voices loudly blaming the victim.
The “blame the victim” mentality is damaging to both men and women because it implies that men can’t control their impulses. “Poor guys, they just can’t help rapin’ when they see a short skirt and some cleavage. She was just askin’ for it.” It’s destructive for women who are victims of violent crime because it reinforces the unwarranted shame and self-doubt that women often feel after an attack. If women feel that they are, somehow, to blame it may result in the victim not reporting the crime at all. According to theNational Crime Victimization Survey only 39% of female victims report rape and less than 10% of male victims report the crime.
Here are some simple statements that we, the ladies of L&P, think should be observed during public discourse about this, and other, sexual crimes:
- A minor child (11-years-old in this case!) cannot consent to sex under any circumstances.
- Perpetrators have control over their own actions. They are not “lured” into violent, sexual crimes by sexy clothes or excused because the victim was intoxicated.
- Blaming the girl’s (or boy’s) parents is not okay. Regardless of whether or not they were “good” parents it is not their fault the daughter was raped.
- A “mob mentality” is not an excuse. There are several alleged perpetrators in this case, but that doesn’t lessen individual responsibility.
- The accuser or victim should never be made to feel as if they are the one on trial.
- Communities should create safe environments where victims can come forward and report rape and other violent crimes without fear of retribution.
- School sex-ed classes need to talk about rape in frank terms. The legal and psychological ramifications need to be made crystal clear. Schools should have a zero tolerance policy for bullying and sexual harassment.
- Media outlets need to guard against assuming the guilt of alleged perpetrator(s), but they should be careful not to cast blame with the victim as some believe the New York Times did in this case.
- Public figures should think before they speak out about these cases (i.e. Florida lawmaker Kathleen Passidomo)
- Most larger communities have rape crisis centers where male and female victims can seek help. RAINN is another organization that can help victims of sexual assault: http://www.rainn.org/