Blaming a child for her own rape: it’s just journalism

Trigger warning.

Is it really too much to ask of the media that rape be reported with sensitivity, accuracy, and care? Is it really too much to ask of a journalist employed by one of the most respected news outlets in the world, to be mindful that minimising rape by barely even using the word and failing to consider the perspective of the victim, or uncritically reporting victim blaming, is harmful? Is it really that unreasonable to ask that journalists and editors consider who hears them when they speak about rape?

Apparently, it is too much to ask.

There has already been much written in response to this appalling article from the New York Times, ostensibly reporting on the horrific rape of an eleven year old child by up to eighteen men and boys in Texas (but really reporting on how rough it is on the small town in which this occurred with little consideration given to the devastating effects of such an attack on the child who survived it.)

It’s worth reading this piece at Mother Jones which demonstrates just how shitty this excuse for journalism is.

And check out this piece at Shakesville which shows how instructive such articles are as examples of rape culture.

I’ve been suffering from gastro the last few days but I have to tell you, nothing made me feel as violently ill as reading that an eleven year old girl was fond of wearing make-up as if that was even a partial explanation for why almost twenty men and boys allegedly chose to abuse her so horrifically, take video of their actions for posterity (and then share it around, presumably also traumatising the elementary school girls who were exposed to it). I’ve signed this petition to ask The New York Times to apologise but it’s going to take more than that to get the bad taste out of my mouth.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Blaming a child for her own rape: it’s just journalism

  1. This is truly sickening and I hope this girl and her family are receiving strong, compassionate support… I really do. Thank you for writing this piece, and linking to the others.

    • There is a CNN video up on Shakesville right now that says that the girl is in foster care for her protection, her family have received threats, and her parents are distressed and planning to move from the area.

  2. That’s sickening, obscene, disgusting – I’m not sure there are enough words to describe just how utterly despicable this is.

    And I’m not just talking about the rape, either – although every single boy who participated in that should be removed from the community that allowed – no, condoned it to happen.

    The community attitude is appalling. How can anyone blame an eleven-year-old girl for being threatened with violence, repeatedly raped and then further humiliated by having that violation passed around via cellphone video? If I was a mother in that town, I’d be pulling up stakes and leaving quick smart, before my daughter was hurt – or my son absorbed the message that it was permissible to do that to another human being. Instead, there’s all this bleating about the ‘poor boys’ and ‘poor us’.

    As for the New York Times – it’s becomingly increasingly clear that most journalists aren’t even bothering to get off their butts and dig into a story. Some loudmouth rape apologists raise their voices and get rewarded with a free, uncritical platform for their bullshit? That’s not journalism. That’s propaganda abetted by laziness.

    That girl may never be the same again. She’s been abused, shamed and run out of town. The community should get down on its collective knees and beg her forgiveness – and the New York Times should do likewise. On its front page.

    • Yep. And it’s misleading to call the alleged rapists boys (although the media reporting seems to suggest that most of them were…) From what I gather, most of those arrested are adults.

  3. antinomy

    I do wish you would delete the word “allegedly”. I understand that this is proper legalese to maintain an air of “innocent until proven guilty”, but this is a blog, not a court proceeding, and this girl was clearly and definitely raped. There is no “alleged” rape, just rape.

    • Antinomy, the same laws apply to journalists and bloggers. And rightly so. My issue around the word “allegedly” is that it’s usually used incorrectly. In this case, she wasn’t allegedly raped – the men and boys arrested are the alleged rapists.

      I asked a cop once about why they always say sexually assaulted instead of raped, and she replied that it’s about evidence. That the details of what happened are evidence and so can’t be revealed. I get that, but at the same time it just perpetuates rape culture. I don’t know what the solution is.

    • I wrote this post in a hurry, and I didn’t used ‘alleged’ at all. And then I thought, that’s not quite right, and I hastily edited it. But you are correct here in pointing out that the use of ‘alleged’ often has the effect of minimising the crime or casting doubt on the veracity of a survivor’s statement. And I certainly didn’t intend to do that. I’m going to tidy it up a little now that you’ve raised that concern, but I do think in general, as newswithnipples points out, that the word ‘alleged’ does have a place.

  4. possible linley

    A shorter version of this article also appears in today’s Age. Maybe they should apologise too for uncritically reprinting it?

  5. This is so disturbing. And absurd. And sick. And . . . yuck.

    I think there is a story, however, in the fact that so many people in this town are blaming the little girl (11-year-olds are in the fifth grade, for God’s sake) and feeling sympathy for the 18 rapists. The problem is that the reporting here is so sympathetic to the sympathizers.

    I feel like I need a shower now.

  6. Rhiannon Saxon

    I think we can guarantee that if an 11 year-old boy was violently assaulted and raped by 18 men, there would be no media comments about his provocative shorts-and-t-shirt, or hints that he was ‘asking for it’.

    • Exactly. The little girl might even have been spared some blame had she been 5 instead of 11. But the blame then would only have been placed more firmly on her mother. The article didn’t even mention the girls father, though it clearly inferred that had her unpbringing and mothering been better than obviously 18 men and young men wouldn’t have violated, raped and shamed her. What about the upbringing of those men and young men who decided that raping an 11 year old girl was A-Okay and a fun way to spend an afternoon?

      McKinley used to be more sympathetic towards rape victims in his reporting. Ever since he covered a few stories about a few convicted rapists being freed after DNA testing proved them innocent, his tone in reporting has changed. At least, that’s the observation I made. (Although he still seems to have a smattering of care and sympathy towards victims of polititians and fundamentalist religious orders. Though only just.)

  7. Pingback: Down Under Feminist Carnival #35 | Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony

  8. I’m so glad you’ve written this piece in response to the article. I can’t quite get my head around why this story was presented in such a way. The most damning comment made is about the girls mother, as if to say ‘If the mother had known where her child was, this wouldnt have happened.’ Why wasnt the question asked: Why the hell were so many MEN capable of this? What are we going to do about this? Etc.
    And to mention that she wore clothes more suitable for a woman in her 20s seems totally irrelevant. Are they saying its the girls fault? Or that the gang rape would have not been so bad if she’d been a woman in her 20s? What? I don’t get it.
    There’s like one compassionate sentence in the whole article, about the church doing a prayer service for the victim. Thats it. Very very strange. And hideously sad.

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