Earlier this week, New York Times reporter James C. McKinley Jr. published an article about an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, who had been gang-raped in an abandoned trailer home by 18 young men and teenage boys. Oddly, McKinley decided to start with a quote from a local hospital worker that sympathized with the rapists:
“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.”
Things only got worse from there. Soon, the girl’s fashions became the story’s focus:
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.
The New York Times’ ombudsman, Arthur S. Brisbane, responded to the public upset about the article, stating that “the outrage was understandable.” He went on to say that: “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.”
Still, on March 16, The Huffington Post slammed The New York Times for “focusing on the adversity faced by rapists,” and then pointed out a new legislation in Florida being launched as a result of the Cleveland, Texas case.
State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-FL) blamed the girl’s attire, stating that she was “gang-raped because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute.” As told by Raw Story, she then proceeded to target the girls’ parents:
“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.”
But the story doesn’t end there.
In a video from NBC News, Texas defense attorney James Evan said that the 11-year-old was a “willing participant” and said he’d heard that she had “been involved with as many as 28 [males].”
Yet there’s one thing that Evan missed: an 11-year-old is a minor, and cannot consent to sexual activity, says Margaret Hartmann on Jezebel.com.
The controversy has led to a petition on Change.org demanding that the New York Times apologize for the fact that their article focused on the rapists’ futures.
So why were all of the quotes in the original New York Times focused almost exclusively on the male rapists and not the young girl? Could it be because everyone in the town of Cleveland, Texas, is actually awful, suggests another article on the Huffington Post. Maybe. An Associated Press article quotes Angie Woods, a woman who lives in Houston but grew up in Cleveland. She sounds a lot like the woman quoted in the original The New York Times article:
“She lied about her age. Them boys didn’t rape her. She wanted this to happen. I’m not taking nobody’s side, but if she hadn’t put herself in that predicament, this would have never happened.”
Unbelievably, throughout the entire story, there’s surprisingly little focus on the young girl’s well-being and follow-up care except for a note in the AP story that the she has been placed in a foster home through Child Protective Services.
In the meantime, the residents of Cleveland, Texas have a lot to figure out.
Submitted by volunteer editor Scarlett W. Originally found on Huffington Post.