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How not to report on rape allegations

Earlier this week, the New York Times published an article by James C. McKinley Jr. that was, in the opinion of many readers (including me), a textbook example of how not to report on rape. Here are the basics, from the not-objectionable part of the article, headined "Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town":

The police investigation began shortly after Thanksgiving, when an elementary school student alerted a teacher to a lurid cellphone video that included one of her classmates. The video led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said.

Horrible. So horrible, perhaps, that it goes without saying. But the trouble has to do with what the article did say. Here's where the problems start, at the end of the next paragraph:

The suspects range in age from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old.The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

"Drawn into"? McKinley's take on the story suggests that the residents of this town in Texas are focused entirely on the plight of the alleged rapists. The only sources who mention the victim -- who is, again, eleven years old -- insinuate that she was not-so-innocent:

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.Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking? said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?

If anyone questioned the parenting of the boys and men who allegedly raped this child, and taped the assault, and passed the video around to all their friends, McKinley didn't write it down.Mac McClelland of Mother Jones, one of many who reacted with dismay and outrage after this was published, did a particularly good job summarizing what's wrong with the article. Even extending every benefit of the doubt to the author and his editors, it's very hard to understand how it got published as-is. Yesterday the NYT's public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, issued a muted rebuke: "Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance." But is a lack of "balance" really the problem? Brisbane points to the AP's reporting on the same story as an example of how it might have been covered more "deftly." In the AP article, we do hear from at least one person who condemns the assault, full stop. But we also get this:

Residents who live nearby told The Associated Press this week that they had seen the girl, dressed provocatively and in makeup, hanging out near the area both before and after Nov. 28. Some in the town expressed doubts about the case, even suggesting authorities should consider culpability on the part of the girl."Maturity or not I'm pretty sure she knew what she was doing," Robin Smith, 24, a cashier in Cleveland, said as she shopped this week.

Is "she was asking for it" a viewpoint that ought to be included in a report like this -- even if it's "balanced" by more compassionate reactions? If these were reports on a trial, and if the defense was attempting to argue that the girl had consented, then the reporter would be obliged to say so. But if it's just a "locals react" roundup, might you not be justified in leaving out the more insensitive reactions? I'm not sure my appreciation of the crime is enhanced by knowing that some lady in a store is "pretty sure" the eleven-year-old "knew what she was doing." But say this is truly an accurate portrait of the local response -- in that case, perhaps the reporter should call attention to that alarming fact in his article? (By the way, the Houston Chronicle reports that locals are incensed by the portrait of their community's reaction to the crime. Even the Chronicle's initial report, however, included some uncomfortable victim-blaming quotes.) I find myself in agreement with "JustMe," who wrote this comment on Brisbane's analysis:

The problem, I think, was with the headline writers, who should have headlined the story, "Troubling Phenomenon of Texas Town Residents who Sympathize with Rapists."

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The suspects range in age from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old.Every "middle schooler" involved is a victim. Perhaps a suspect as well, but also a victim.

Given that the Times is now a Rupert Murdoch paper I don't see why anyone is surprised that the NYT is becoming sensationalized at least in certain departments. There should be a law against any person or corporationc controlling more than two major media outlets. Murdoch now owns or controls the NYT, New York Post, Wall St. Journal, the LA Times, a San Antonio paper, Fox Broadcasting and Direct TV, among other many other media, and his sleaze is a major force in other countries. News Corp had earnings of over 32 BILLION last year, so you can guess the number lives it touches and contaminates. This can't be good for a democratic country.

Aw, shux folks: good ole boys will be good ole boys!

"This cant be good for a democratic country."But it sure seems good for what is increasingly behaving like a republican country!

Ann,Rupert Murdoch doesn't own the New York Times. Also, the article in question wasn't criticized for being sensational. Rupert Murdoch also doesn't own the Los Angeles Times. He does own The Times (of London) and The Sunday Times (of London).The in question in the New York Times is written in a very odd manner, which I would not defend, but there is something very odd about how the town itself is reacting.It seems very likely to me that there is a racial element to the case that is not being very openly discussed. Note the following:

The recent events surrounding this sexual assault case has created rifts in the community, including racial ones. On Thursday, Houston civil rights activist Quanell X held a rally and questioned why all the suspects apprehended in the case were all African Americans.

Here is the most complete account of events I have found.

David N --YEs, the NYT, etc., are publicly owned companies, but Murdoch's NewsCorp controls them, and he controls NewsCorp. Or so I understand it. He claims that he doesn't interfere with editorial policy, but that's what he says. I'd trust him about as far as I can throw an elephant. I agree with Mollie -- to present one side of a story, even though all the details are individually true, adds up to a distorted story. The old Times respected that fact. That's no doubt one reason iit was called the "Gray Lady".

This is sad. What is being intentionally deleted from most of these stories is that the victim is hispanic and all of the suspects are black. I only mention this because I suspect that has a lot to do with the attitudes being expressed by the townspeople - rallying to the perpetrators' defense.

AnnNews Corp owns the New York Post, not the New York Times. Murdoch has nothing to do with them.

Ann, NewsCorp does not own the New York Times. You are misinformed.

Ann,From Wikipedia: "Since 1967, The New York Times Company has been publicly traded and listed on the New York Stock Exchange by the symbol NYT. While the company offers two kinds of shares of its stock, Class A and Class B, Class B shares are not publicly traded. The Class B shares provide a mechanism by which the descendants of Adolph Ochs, who purchased The New York Times newspaper in 1896, maintain control of the company by holding nearly 90 percent of this 'special class of stock.'"

Mollie,I think the media as a whole struggles with how to write balanced reports on cases of sexual assault. For an example of a series of articles unfairly slanted against the alleged perps, see the Chicago Tribune's shameless reporting on the situation at Notre Dame a few months back. As to why this is the case with sexual assault cases, I don't know.Mike

I've read some good responses to the Times' piece (as well as the follow-up by the public editor). The best was by Roxane Gay; http://therumpus.net/2011/03/the-careless-language-of-sexual-violence/(ht: Bookslut).

YEs, you guys are right. I was thinking of News Corp's WSJ takeover a couple of years back.

Jimmy,Just curious - what did you mean by "good ole boys"?And what the heck do political parties have to do with this?

Since the "she had it coming" argument doesn't fly with most people when we're talking about the rape of a little girl, in order to pull it off, the reporter had to try to position the child as being more like an adult (hence the quotes about her clothes and makeup and air of maturity). Pretty awful.

Now that we've established that Rupert Murdoch has nothing to do with this story or newspaper, I trust we can skip the political spat. Thanks all.

Agree that the NYT article blamed the victim. It was disgusting. A little girl or a mature woman should be able to walk NAKED down a street and not be attacked by a gang of men and boys. Etc. Nauseating that people come to the defense of rapists. Nauseating that anyone thinks there's a "balance" to be found between one little girl and EIGHTEEN savages. (The make-up seems to be an important element in assessing blame and achieving balance.)And speaking of rape, ever notice how often the adjective "brutal" is attached to rape, as if some rapes are not brutal?

Irene and Gerelyn,Let's not get carried away. While it is certainly true that it is completely illegitimate to say an 11-year-old rape victim was "asking for it," and it's true that in an ideal world "a little girl or a mature woman should be able to walk NAKED down a street and not be attacked by a gang of men and boys," it would be bizarre to draw the conclusion that it is perfectly acceptable for an 11-year-old girl to behave in the way this girl did, or that walking down the street naked in a dangerous neighborhood should not be considered risky, because it's up to men to behave themselves. Here's something from story I linked to above:

On her Facebook page, the 11-year-old tells whomever she befriends that she's aware people have probably heard about her, but she doesn't care what they think."If you dislike me, deal with it," she wrote.Sometimes she comes across like a little girl, such as when she talks of her special talent for making "weird sound effects" and "running in circles" to overcome nervousness.But she also makes flamboyant statements about drinking, smoking and sex. Yet her vulnerability pokes through the tough veneer as she tells of "being hurt many times," where she "settled for less" and "let people take advantage" and "walk all over" her. She vows to learn from her mistakes.While Maria said she never saw any of her daughter's Internet postings, she believes her 11-year-old might have been seeking misguided attention.

Some have been outraged that people have asked where her parents were while all this was happening, but "Child Protective Services put the girl in a foster home for her protection and restricted her family from even speaking to her, the family said." If everything was as it should have been between the family and this child, why would they be prevented from speaking with her? The fact of the matter is that it is an ugly story, and you can't pretty it up. Note the following:

The sexual assault case, which has rocketed into the national spotlight, is also upsetting many locals who fear the child is being victimized once more by those who try to blame her. Others have nothing but derogatory comments about the young girl, including a local website that posted a risque photo of the girl and also labeled her a "snitch."

There was something disturbing about the Times' story, but there is something very sick about what actually happened, and something very ugly about how many in the town are reacting to it. So I don't think it is entirely the fault of the reporter that the story came across as creepy. While no one should ever be raped, nevertheless it is true that there are rapists and potential rapists out there, and given that unfortunate fact, there is behavior that it is risky for women to engage in.

According to Cleveland police, the young girl was assaulted at an abandoned trailer and neighboring house after agreeing to go "riding around" with a 19-year-old and two other young men.

No one should ever be raped, and it is wrong to blame the victim, but on the other hand, anyone who wants to maintain that 11-year-old girls aren't making a very serious mistake to accept an invitation "to go riding around" with a 19-year-old boy and two other young men on the grounds that the burden is on the young men to behave themselves should not be allowed to give advice to 11-year-old girls.

. . . . . . . . . . it would be bizarre to draw the conclusion that it is perfectly acceptable for an 11-year-old girl to behave in the way this girl did, or that walking down the street naked in a dangerous neighborhood should not be considered risky, because its up to men to behave themselves.-------Sorry you think it's "bizarre" to imagine "men" should "behave themselves".

Gerelyn,What is bizarre is to imagineand act as ifmen will behave themselves. You are not making a distinction between what ought to be and what is. Would you really want to teach children that it is okay to get in cars with strangers, because strangers should behave themselves?

No, David, what is bizarre is that a respected newspaper reports on an appalling gang rape of a little girl and manages to throw in all kinds of gratuitous quotes from townspeople implying that the little girl somehow brought it on herself. Concerning reader outrage that the article pilloried the victim, The NY Times' own public editor wrote: "My assessment is that the outrage is understandable. 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."http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/gang-rape-story-lacked-...

(Molly had included that link earlier from the Times' Public Editor)

Irene,I have no quarrel with the reaction to the Times story or the criticism of it by the public editor. He said it lacked balance. What I do find strange is that some seem to feel that instead of being balanced, it should have gone completely the other way. See the AP story title Some in Texas Town Blaming Young Girl in Assault. Of course it is outrageous, but it is also true. You said, ". . . in order to pull it off, the reporter had to try to position the child as being more like an adult (hence the quotes about her clothes and makeup and air of maturity)." But apparently everything the reporter said was true. It just wasn't "balanced." I do not think the Times reporter was taking the side of the perpetrators over that of the victim. I think he was reporting (rather badly) on a disturbing situation in which there is a lot of sympathy in the town for the rapists and a lot of antipathy against the victim. It is certainly illegitimate to try to shift blame from the rapists to, say, the girl's parents. That does not mean, however, that they are models of good parents. It is very wrong to say or imply the girl "asked for it." But it would also be very wrong to say she behaved, or was permitted to behave, wisely for an 11-year-old girl. What's going on in the town is very ugly, and the Times story may have been poorly conceived and written, but it is not in any way the cause of what happened to the girl or what is happening right now in the town.

". . . but on the other hand, anyone who wants to maintain that 11-year-old girls arent making a very serious mistake to accept an invitation to go riding around with a 19-year-old boy and two other young men on the grounds that the burden is on the young men to behave themselves should not be allowed to give advice to 11-year-old girls."David N. --I agree. Unfortunately, too many feminists deliver a grossly, grossly oversimplified message to the young.They overlook several facts. First, nature causes people to be sexually aroused, but it can also be caused by come-ons chosen by tempters, which makes the tempters initially responsible. Second, there is a language of sex that can initiate or amplify that reaction, and behavior and dress are large parts of sexual language. Because the behavior and dress are matters of choice that makes the individuals, women included, partially responsible for the effects of their sexual messages. They are complicit to some extent if things are carried further. So it is extraordinarily naive and dangerous to tell a girl that she can choose to walk down the street naked and that's OK. Firther, her behavior counts in the moral equation. A woman or girl who doesn't really mean what her sexual language is saying is playing withfire, and the louder the language, the greater the risk. And, -- yes == the greater the partial responsibility for the outcome. No, rape is never, ever fair. But it is also true that women should not tempt men. Is the rape the far greater sin? Well, of course. But if you care about the young you don't tell them it's OK to choose to put themselves in harm's way and that morally it's all the guy's fault.No, this is most certainly not a license for guys to rape trashy behaving girls. It is a sermon about theiri safety and their limited complicity in evil.

I think some of the posts above are a perfect example of why the NY Times article was inappropriate. There are still people out there all too ready to blame the victim; the NY Times article, by reporting town gossip about the little girl's behavior, helps those people shift some of the blame onto the girl. I was a survivor of an attempted rape when I was 24. One of the people who knew my story implied to me that if I had somehow been more cautious, I could have avoided the attack. (That person- another woman, no less- didn't really need to tell me I was somehow to blame, because I was already blaming myself plenty.)Those men who raped that girl are criminals and there is nothing about the victim that mitigates their behavior.

Irene --Everything you say is true. It is also true that some feminists are sending out a dangerous message.

"Those men who raped that girl are criminals and there is nothing about the victim that mitigates their behavior."This is the point. Believe it or not it is this type of thinking that prevents the RCC from having female pastors.

Like it or not, there are ways of acting and dressing that are designed to be tempting or temptation:something that seduces or has the quality to seduce the desire to have or do something that you know you should avoid; "he felt the temptation and his will power weakened" enticement: the act of influencing by exciting hope or desire; "his enticements were shameless"wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwnCommon sense says that someone should have cautioned this 11 year old (repeat: 11 year old!) girl who is too emotionally immature to have thought through the consequences of her actions on her own, that temptation can cause problems. Just because little girls try to emulate Brittney Spears or the same ilk and maybe even their parents think it is "cute," they nonetheless need to know that ALL actions have consequences, some of which are far from pleasant.Does this excuse the men/boys/cretins in this story? Of course not. As I was told often when I was young: "a word to the wise should be sufficient." This girl was far from wise so she needed many words to constitute sufficiency.Does anyone really think that she got them?

Maybe we have to change the story of Adam and Eve which is really a self-serving patriarchal bias. The theological point of a marred humanity can stay intact. Men should realize that Adam comes out worse than Eve even if Tertullians and the other Fathers of the Church say otherwise. So Adam (men) finally takes responsibility. It does not matter if the female is eleven years old, twenty one, thirty or fifty.

I would log a mild dissent as I think Brisbane's critique got it pretty much right. I think the Mother Jones critique wants the story to be something it is not, and wants quotations and information that may not be there. I think a principal source of the agita over this story is that it is not reporting on the case so much as it is on the reaction of the town, which is eye-opening if not appalling. Indeed, they are also upset at the coverage, and perhaps that was the point. The story was effective, to me, in showing the kind of "boys will be boys," circle-the-wagons mentality that can afflict so many communities (and the nation). Stories about that phenomena will always be uncomfortable and disconcerting to read, but also necessary. Lots of stories out there are offensive, but they need to be told. This wasn't a news story about the rape that was presenting the facts in the case so much as it was recounting the aftermath -- and an aftermath that illuminates the darkness that appears to have contributed to such a crime. That the newspaper recounts townspeople saying that an 11-year-old girl walked around in provocative dress is not the newspaper's fault, to my mind; it's a brief for the prosecution, if anything. I think the story needed more, and as Brisbane suggested there was an assumption of "it goes without saying..." But even if it is pro forma, a story does need to point out how terrible the crime was, and take the couple of further steps the AP story did. And the racial element is a very big thing. But none of that would have made the town look any better, I think, nor would it have made the story any more pleasant to read.

Why would the NYT run a story about "the aftermath" before running a story about the rape? The March 8th story was the first coverage offered.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/us/09assault.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=clevel... eleven-year-old victim "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."Interesting how many agree that the victim's clothing and makeup diminish the guilt of the criminals. Complicity, complicity.

Gerelyn --I don't say that their guilt is diminished a significant amount. I do say that, if she realized what she was doing (I'm not sure an ll year old child could realize the possible consequences), that she too has some guilt in establishing the context. No, she was not responsible in the least for the terrible outcome. Further, the ultra-feminists who preach to the young that clothing and behavior of women is irrelevant are also guilty -- of misleading the young.

Why would the NYT run a story about the aftermath before running a story about the rape? The March 8th story was the first coverage offered.Gerelyn,Because the crime itself occurred in November of 2010, and the first news reports about it were in December. The news of the moment is the unfolding of the investigation, the arrests, the possible pending arrests, and the reaction of the town.

"Further, the ultra-feminists who preach to the young that clothing and behavior of women is irrelevant are also guilty of misleading the young."Ann,The problem with your statement is that it cites the "clothing and behavior of women" whereas men do dress and act seductively also. From time immemorial, books and the air waves have been dominated by men. Too many women writers, unfortunately, have followed that style. Nowadays bachelorette parties have shed light on this under reported side of women. Not to single out your statement because that is part of our genre. Which is the problem.

Nothing this child did "mitigates" the actions of these men.When they are eventually brought to justice, I hope that her actions are not allowed to "mitigate" the outcome.Should you counsel your children to beware of predators? of course you should. Does what a woman actions, let alone a child's, have any bearing on the behavior of men? unfortunately in our society it does, but it should not.

The problem with your statement is that it cites the clothing and behavior of women whereas men do dress and act seductively also.Bill,Are you saying that there are no differences between men and women? Are you saying that men and women who dress and act seductively are at equal risk of being raped? Walking around the streets of Manhattan, I see women who look or dress even the least bit provocatively whistled at, verbally harassed, and sometimes even followed. I don't see this happening even to good looking, muscular young men in the summer heat walking around with their shirts off. Few of us would object to women looking provocative at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place, but it is unwise at certain times and places. It goes without saying that men are much more likely to be stimulated by a provocatively dressed woman than women are likely to be stimulated by a provocatively dressed man, and it also goes without saying than men in general are more aggressive and stronger than women. I am all for equality of the sexes, but there are certain realities, and one of them is that women are in much greater danger of sexual assault from men than men are in danger of sexual assault from women. I understand the reaction to some people here against the descriptions of this girl as provocative, and it would be very wrong to say, "She was asking for it." However, I can't imagine anyone here who objects to the descriptions of her behavior actually allowing a child of their own to behave in the way she did. Stanley Crouch has some interesting observations:

These are obviously sexist and racist ways to read this tragedy, which allow us to avoid the ugly fact of the matter: Our culture does not teach young women to protect themselves. All parents suffer despair when observing how naively female children choose to enlist in the obligatory "rebellion" promoted since the '60s.Otherwise, one is some kind of a nerd who listens to the advice of parents and other adults. To move up the lurid side of our culture, one should do everything except listen to one's parents - and finish his or her homework.The extremely strong desire to follow the trends of the moment is helped by an electronic media in which sex is attached to every activity. Girls constantly hear about how to look "hot," which usually means dressing like a prostitute. . . .But it is still painful to hear what preadolescent girls or teenage women say when they open their mouths on the subject of sexuality and responsibility. One can easily hear the heartbreaking confusion of children as it unconsciously wrestles up through their vulgarity, their attempts at being tough, their dismissals of supposed good behavior.

The need to blame rape victims and excuse rapists is powerful, obviously. Even in the case of sexual predation on children or "epheboi" by priests, there is often mention of the seductive or provocative behavior of the victim. -------From SNAP:This culture has a long history of blaming female victims whatever their age for the sexual abuse perpetrated on them. We must have been too seductive, too precocious, or too cute. 1) Girls and women often wisely fear being blamed for their abuse. (Few male victims are ever asked "Well, what were you wearing at the time?" or "Were you physically well-developed for your age?"2) Some parents are more outraged and motivated to action when their son is raped rather than their daughter. http://www.snapnetwork.org/snap_statements/2005_statements/120205_women_... Bishop Accountability:As far back as 2002, Gary Schoener, a clinical psychologist in Minneapolis told the Kansas City Star that there's a double standard in how gender is treated in the priest sex scandals. "It is presumed that the abuse of young boys is more deviant and therefore more harmful," he said. "Girls and women are the only group that, if you're in a disposition, they're asked if they liked it ... The girls are asked what they were wearing; they are accused of being seductive. That is virtually routine." Women even receive less money in settlements.http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2010/05_06/2010_05_03_BeyondChr...

Responding to David Gibson:I think a principal source of the agita over this story is that it is not reporting on the case so much as it is on the reaction of the town, which is eye-opening if not appalling.I'll grant that, but I feel like I'm giving the reporter a lot of credit to do so. I can believe that's what he thought he was doing (although to me it reads more like "I couldn't get any solid information on the crime or access to anyone directly involved, so canvassing some neighbors was the best I could do." Not his fault, but a challenge for him and his editor that I think they biffed). But even assuming that this really is an accurate portrait of the town's response, I think McKinley is at the very least guilty of some lousy framing, because there's no indication in his article that he actually recognized how appalling that response was. Setting it up by noting that "By and large, the residents of the town are focused on the alleged perpetrators, shocked that men from their community could be guilty of [not "drawn into"] something so awful" would have been a big help. Or he could have noted that he only managed to speak to relatives/neighbors of the perpetrators and not the victim (if that's the case). I don't think it's impossible to provide some useful context in a non-opinion piece -- something I agree with Mac McClelland (and "Just Me") about. If that's the story you're telling, then tell us that's the story you're telling.As far as quotes about how the girl dressed and all that -- again, unless you're going to say something like "Some residents even went so far as to suggest the victim might have been complicit" before including those quotes, I'm not sure they belong in this story. Not when all you have to go on is hearsay because the child and her family are (understandably) not accessible to the press. When we know something solid about her circumstances, or if the police should charge her parents with negligence, those factors will be part of the discussion. But right now?

Mollie,As I noted above, the crime itself was committed in November, and the police have been investigating it since early December. I can find stories on the web about the incident as early as December 10. The Times story to me was about the town. It was not an account of the crime itself.

But for the purposes of the Times (and the AP), this was not a follow-up report; this was first-time coverage of the story. If McKinley had been writing a sidebar article to a main one that was about the crime and the investigation, or a follow-up "nothing new, but we still have to talk about it" article after the story had been in the news for days, it might have come across better. But it still would have been a badly written and edited article. The problem, in my opinion, is not that people failed to appreciate what McKinley was trying to do, the problem was that he did it so poorly.

. . . if the police should charge her parents with negligence, those factors will be part of the discussion.---Have any parents of victims of abuse by clergy been charged with negligence? Does neglect by the parents of the rapists deserve any consideration? ---"Our culture does not teach young women to protect themselves." True. And it does not teach young men not to rape. How many priests have ever preached sermons about rape? If the little girl in Texas is pregnant, will she be required to bear her rapists' children? Should girls and women wear bags or should boys and men wear blinders?

I find it almost weird that virtually no one is paying any attention to the racial element. That explains the "town's" reaction more than anything. First and foremost, he reactions are coming from the African-Amercian community and not the "town." It's a mixed race/ethinic town and there has apparently been a history of animosity between the black and hispanic communities there even before this incident. I don't think you are seeing a "boys will be boys" reaction, but an instinctive rallying of a community to protect or excuse their own.On the more general issue being discussed there is a lot more ambiguity than the feminist view admits. I also agree with the position that that view can even be harmful. I have worked with too many victims of sexual assault to presume a woman was "asking for it." That being said, we as parents, friends, family members, and community leaders need to not be afraid to help women protect themselves by being honest about behaviors that put them at risk. Too long we have been telling them - you're just like the boys - while at the same time saying - you are not to blame. I have seen so many cases of young women who think they can party with the guys, drink like them, get raunchy like them, and think there will be no risk. I don't say this to excuse young men's bad behavior. I don't. But taking all the responsibilty off the shoulders of young women is dangerous - to them.That being said, this case involving an 11 year-old is not one where she can bear much, if any responsibility.

"Have any parents of victims of abuse by clergy been charged with negligence? Does neglect by the parents of the rapists deserve any consideration?"When dealing with the former, I think it safe to say that there was an all-pervasive (no longer existing, thank God) church conditioning that a priest was on a pedastel and could and would do no wrong. Children were to be trust with them and any child who spoke out against a priest was wrong and to be disciplined accordingly. There is a culpability when it comes to this attitude, but it is more on the part of the ecclesiastical culture than with people conditioned from childhood and for generations to trust Father.When it comes to rapists or potential rapists, I know of no pervasive societal or parental attitude that little girls (or boys) should simply assume that any and all other people should be trusted to act in their best interest. Admittedly (thank God!), I have no children and could be very wrong in this second situation.

"Walking around the streets of Manhattan, I see women who look or dress even the least bit provocatively whistled at, verbally harassed, and sometimes even followed." David, Women would be ridiculed if they did the same. It does not mean that they would not. They are allowed to do it at bachelorette male stripper parties and they do."I have seen so many cases of young women who think they can party with the guys, drink like them, get raunchy like them, and think there will be no risk." Sean, your experience may be limited. I have seen many cases of men being confused and angry over agressive women bedding them. Further, there is a whole world out there outside of our experiences. However, we slice it we are victims of our upbringing. We have to distinguish between what we have been carefully taught and what is objective.

Bill,I was not talking about that. My point was that we tell young women that it's ok to be one of the guys. But when they get drunk and helpless and are around a bunch of young men, bad things can happen. In some cases, the young man isn't a rapist, and as you say can simply be confused. Nonetheless, it's a bad mix, and telling a young woman that she should avoid it isin't blaming the victim and it isn't sexist, it's just good sense.

Bill -- About clothing -- if I'm not mistaken psychologists have verified the old belief that women's clothing is more important than men's for the reason that men are more easily stimulated by visual data than women are. No, I don't remember where I read that.True, men do send out symbols through their clothing (think leather and metal), and for some women that's a turn on, no doubt. So shame on those men too. But I think it's safe to say that women aren't generaly very attracted to popinjays or peacocks, while men are. IF lipstick helped attract women, men would wear it.

I'm surprised that the "drawn into" line got through The Times copy desk. Or, maybe, that's where the line originated. "Drawn into" comes at the crucial point in the story, where the writer sums up what it's all about. Regarding race and ethnicity: The accepted practice is to identify people by race or ethnicity only when it is relevant to the story. In a crime story, that would usually mean there is an element of bias involved.

Oh my God, who would think that the whole "what she was wearing" would pop up in this conversation. Guess what, folks, you are in denial. For perps they don't CARE what a victim wears. All they care about is opportunity. Are YOU all aware that most people are sexually victimized BEFORE the age of 12? What do you say then? The toddler should not have been wearing diapers? Maybe if the child was wearing appropriate clothes??? Give me a break. I am the mother of a sexual assault survivor. She was THREE! And, NO, her clothes did NOT contribute to the perp attacking her. It makes me sick to hear this crap. Gerelyn, God bless you. I am so sorry you are in the club of the 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males. It is a crappy place to be and even worse when you have to hear men and women shift the blame to the victim. All men are sexually stimulated at some point. Not all become rapists. Get a clue & don't insult decent men.

Speaking of blaming the victim's clothing: the worst example I've seen, fresh from Florida (via Jason Linkins):

One committee member, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) said she'd read recently a horrible story out of Texas about the rape of a young girl."There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," she said. "And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think its 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 doesnt happen to our students."

Passidomo was not proposing new legislation (as Linkins suggests), but commenting on the unanimous passage of a bill designed to ban "indecent or vulgar" attire in schools (e.g., boys wearing their pants so low you can see their underwear). She seems to agree with the Texans McKinley quoted that the rape can basically be chalked up to the girl's bad clothing choices. I think she has some meetings with sex-crime-survivor advocacy groups in her future.Also: here's an AP story I hadn't seen before, which I think makes for an instructive contrast with the NYT story discussed above. Rather than uncritically repeating and paraphrasing the locals' take, the headline tips you off as to what's noteworthy: "Some in Texas town blaming young girl in assault."

Gerelyn, God bless you. I am so sorry you are in the club of the 1 in 3 females and 1 in 6 males. It is a crappy place to be and even worse when you have to hear men and women shift the blame to the victim.RCM,Nobody here is "blaming the victim." Note that the details of the crimes are rather different from what earlier information led us to believe:

The alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old Cleveland girl that has drawn national attention was not just a one-time incident, but rather a protracted assault that happened on at least four dates over a three-month period, recently obtained court documents show.The first assault allegedly occurred on Sept. 15, and the last on Dec. 1 the same day that Cleveland school authorities learned that videos of the girl being raped not only existed but had gone viral across the district.

Also, note this:

Bridgehaven Children's Advocacy Center director Paula Barron interviewed the victim but is also prohibited from discussing the specific case.But in general, she said, children are often exploited through a "whole grooming process that takes place to gain their trust.""Kids can get caught up in this," she said. "Because they want attention, acceptance or lack something else in their lives, but with a pedophile they receive special treatment. Kids are groomed to think this is a good person who cares about them."

It is beginning to see clear that this is not a case of a child being abducted and raped, but a case of serial abuse. From an earlier article I posted above:

But she [the victim] also makes flamboyant statements [on her Facebook page] about drinking, smoking and sex. Yet her vulnerability pokes through the tough veneer as she tells of being hurt many times, where she settled for less and let people take advantage and walk all over her. She vows to learn from her mistakes.While Maria [the victim's mother] said she never saw any of her daughters Internet postings, she believes her 11-year-old might have been seeking misguided attention.

Absolutely nothing in any of the news stories absolves the rapists of their crimes. However, this 11-year-old girl seems to have been minimally supervised, and she was permitted to engage in very risky behavior inappropriate for an 11-year-old.Again, from a story I posted above:

According to Cleveland police, the young girl was assaulted at an abandoned trailer and neighboring house after agreeing to go riding around with a 19-year-old and two other young men.

That was the third assault on November 28, with two previous assaults having taken place on September 15 and October 25. Note that the authorities have taken custody of the victim and are allowing only very limited access to her family. Nothing mitigates the guilt of the rapists, but the victim, and 11-year-old, seems to have spent a great deal of time without any adult supervision engaging in risky behavior. It is not blaming the victim to note that parents should tell their 11-year-old daughters not to "go riding around" with 19-year-old boys or post their thoughts about smoking, drinking and having sex on their Facebook pages.

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