Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Blame the Victim

I usually don't write about true crime stories. If I did, I'd be writing or commenting on some sort of lurid disaster on a daily basis.

But this gang rape story out of Texas caught my eye, not because of the sordid nature of the crime or Genovese syndrome aspect of the attack. But because of the "blame the victim mentality expressed by several residents.

Gang Rape of Schoolgirl Shakes Town:

CLEVELAND, Tex. — 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. The suspects range in age from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old.
I mention the Genovese Syndrome or Bystander effect to question how so many suspects could be involved in a crime such as this without anyone stepping in to stop it. Collective behavior and the "anonymity of the crowd" suggest people will do things in a large group they would never do individually.

But the grotesque "blame the victim" mentality on display is really astonishing.

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?”

Really? Instead of asking where her mother was, the better question might be where were the suspects mothers? Or where were the "concerned" residents of the mobile home park? The implication in the statement above is that in some way this girl was being punished.

This is typical victim-precipitation thinking: by dressing or behaving a certain way, somehow an 11 year old girl asked to be gang raped by 18 suspects in an abandoned trailer and be "taught a lesson."

I realize we are talking about trailer park residents, and stereotyping is always a dangerous thing, but it is this kind of ignorance about the nature of rape and gang rape which plants the seed in the mind of some men (boys) that this kind of behavior is perfectly acceptable; that she deserved it; that she had it coming.

When we argue victim precipitation, we are moving the responsibility of the attack from the perpetrator to the victim.

And rape is never the victim's fault.

UPDATE: Jezebel and Salon have more on the reaction to Big Media's sloppy coverage of this story. One NBC reporter allows an attorney representing one of the suspects to say the 11 year old girl was a "willing participant" unchallenged (as if an 11 year old can consent to sex, even in Texas). Another reporter from the Houston Chronicle mined the girl's Facebook page for "evidence" she was into "drinking, smoking and sex."

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