[Trigger warning for sexual violence, victim-blaming, and rape apologia.]
There is an awful story in the New York Times today: Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town. It's about the arrest of 18 boys and men, ranging in age "from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old," for the gang-rape of an 11-year-old girl.
As horrible as this story is, the article serves as a great example of exactly what we mean by "rape culture."
1) By paragraph #4, we have been told the ages of the men and several have been personalized: "Five suspects are students at Cleveland High School, including two members of the basketball team. Another is the 21-year-old son of a school board member." Etc. All we know about the 11-year-old is her age and gender.
2) In paragraph #4, we read the following question: "[I]f the allegations are proved, how could [the community's] young men have been drawn into such an act?". Which suggests, of course, that it really isn't their fault they raped a child; they were just "drawn into it." Indeed, according to one of the people quoted, "These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives."
3) The actual word "rape" is avoided whenever possible. The reader is told that the girl had been forced to have sex, she was "sexually assaulted," and she was threatened with violence if she "did not comply."
4) Now ask yourself the reason for the following paragraph to have been included:
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."Nowhere in this story is the following made clear:
— That an 11-year-old child cannot consent to sex. Even if she had not been "told she would be beaten if she did not comply," this would have been rape.
— That the victim also has to "live with this for the rest of her life." The boys chose to do the things they will have to live with. She did not.
— That the men involved were not "drawn into this," but made the conscious choice to rape a child.
— That our compassion and care should be directed first and foremost toward the victim rather than the boys, the school, the community, or anyone else.
— That just as we should not stand in judgment of the victim we should not venture to judge her mother. ("'Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?' said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record.") For all we know, the woman had been frantically trying to get someone, anyone, to listen to her concerns about her daughter. Even if she hadn't been, parental neglect does not give other people a license to rape unsupervised children.
My impression when I finished reading the article was that the reader was being admonished to feel compassion and pain for the town and the boys. The victim had disappeared from article just as she had fled the town.
As so it goes—today in rape culture.
UPDATE FROM LISS: Sign the petition asking the New York Times to apologize for its victim-blaming garbage here.