Friday, March 11, 2011

CAUTION: Rant ahead- Girl tacitly blamed for her own rape. Stay classy, New York Times.

While I generally try to stay on the sunny side, I can't help but be completely pissed by this New York Times article about the gang rape of an eleven year old girl in Cleveland, Texas. Reporter James McKinley decided that the best possible way to frame his article was to highlight the ways in which this child provoked her own assault- by eighteen- yes, you read that right- eighteen men and boys ranging from middle-school aged to 27 years old.

McKinley quotes neighborhood residents that state the victim, a middle school-er, "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." Like dressing a particular way could possible insight EIGHTEEN people to gang rape you. That would be one heck of a fashion faux pas, to be sure.

To be honest, my biggest 'oh my G-d, you have got to be kidding' moment reading this article was this gem from resident Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who reportedly knows several of the defendants, who stated: “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

Wow. It never occurred to me that I should feel horribly sad and distressed by the fact that "these boys" who allegedly assaulted an eleven year old child (can I say that enough? No, no I can not.) are going to have to "live with this" for the rest of their lives. This is clearly going to be horrible for them- much worse than, say, the pain and trauma that their victim- who they raped repeatedly while some of them video taped the assault on their cell phones- will have to grapple with the rest of her life.

While I would like to say that I am shocked by this reporting, the sad truth is I find it fairly par for the course. The idea that women are responsible for their own assault is hardly news. Victim-centric constructions of rape and sexual assault are firmly ingrained in our general psyche- rarely do we question that the best ways to 'prevent' rape is by encouraging women to 'stay safe' by dressing conservatively, walking in pairs, parking in well lit areas, etc. I have never, EVER heard anyone suggest that the best way to prevent rape is to- brace yourself- reduce risk factors that contribute to individuals performing violent sexual assault. Gasp.

Elizabeth Stanko refers to this as "everyday violence", and details the ways in which women must plan many mundane aspects of their lives to reduce their risk of sexual assault. This continual process of placing the onus on the victim desensitizes us to just how ridiculous it is to blame the victim, a process Pierre Bourdieu terms "symbolic violence", where the overarching social structures reinforce and make power dynamics that are socially constructed appear 'natural'.

If you're as steamed as I am, please sound off by emailing the article's reporter, James McKinley or call the New York Times at 1-888-NYT-NEWS (1-888-698-6397) to productively express your opinion that victim-centric constructions of gender have no place in responsible reporting.

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