Victim-Blaming Part 1: Texas Gang-Rape of a Child

In Cleveland, Texas, 19 suspects have been charged in the sexual assault of an 11-year-old child. While heartbreaking, this is not earth-shattering news. All too often, we hear of things like this and shake our heads, and maybe some of us say a prayer for the victim.

The details of this particular case are particularly noteworthy.

This child was assaulted repeatedly over the course of six weeks in late 2010 by different individuals/groups at different times in different locations. The perpetrators ranged in age from 14 to 27. Cell-phone-recorded video and photographs were widely disseminated to non-participants.

The victim and her family have become such a target of local public vitriol and threats that Child Protective Services has removed her from her home/family/town. One of the assault incidents could only be defined as “gang-rape for an audience.”

A local black civil rights activist has accused the Ku Klux Klan of running the investigation of the Hispanic victim and a passel of black perpetrators. The accusation has all but blown the lid of the powder keg of this small Texas city of 7,000 - 9,000 (reports vary). The majority of black residents still live in a portion of Cleveland referred to alternately as “The ‘Hood” and “The Quarters.”

(No, the case has not been tried. Yes, all Defendants are innocent-until-proven-guilty. I won’t use the word “alleged” or anything like it during this accounting, though, because that word indicates the possibility the crime did not occur. Since there is video/photographic proof that sexual acts between a child and adults did occur, and because I won’t be naming suspects, I don’t feel the need to use “alleged“ anything. If you disagree, Comment.)

While court documents indicate three separate dates of assault (Sept. 15, Oct. 25, and Nov. 28), the majority of the news coverage (and therefore available information) has to do with the third date . . . And for good reason (i.e. gag order).

(All statements of fact in the following paragraphs, including the two lists, are taken from news accounts and are credited to affidavits, indictments, and other court documents. The list is generated from the text of the gag order itself. Sources are located a the end of this post.)

The Nov. 28 assault began when a 19-year-old male convinced the girl to take a drive with him and two other males.

(For those of you who weren’t raised in a small town and might not understand the appeal, “riding around” is often a form of social entertainment for small groups of teenagers in towns where there isn‘t much else to do.)

The three males took the girl to the private residence of a relative of a fourth male. This fourth male ordered her to remove her clothing. If she did not, they threatened her with not driving her home and with having other girls beat her up.

Soon enough, all four of the males were having sex with the girl in the bedroom and bathroom. While in that bathroom, the girl overheard one of the perpetrators use a phone to invite others to the scene. When she left the bathroom, four more males she did not recognize were present.

Shortly thereafter, everyone fled when the relative of the fourth male returned to the home. The girl’s undergarments were left behind in the private residence. The group arrived at a nearby abandoned trailer home that stands next to a Baptist church, and the attack continued. As at least some of the perpetrators had sex with the girl, other males present took pictures and recorded videos with their cell phones. (How long the attack continued, and how many of those present actually had sex with the girl is not available in press accounts.)

Those cell phone pictures and videos were widely distributed among students and non-students in short order. On Dec. 1, a friend of the victim alerted school authorities to their existence. The Cleveland ISD Police Chief investigated the case, determined that a rape had occurred off of school property, and referred the matter to the Cleveland Police on Dec. 3. Cleveland PD investigated and arrested its 19th suspect on March 23.

On March 15, a District Court judge signed a gag order regarding the sexual assault/s of the girl. The order specifically prevents:

  • All involved attorneys from making public statements that could taint the jury pool. (This is standard attorney ethicality, but the judge specifically included it in the order.)
  • All involved attorneys, their staffs/agents/representatives/employees, the Defendant/s, and all involved law enforcement officials and investigators from publicly discussing the case or disseminating documents, photographs, data, information, or any other materials pertaining to the case.
  • The Defendant/s and all involved law enforcement officers and investigators from publishing, disclosing, or otherwise disseminating by any means whatsoever, the residential address or location of either the victim or any relative by blood or marriage.
  • Any witness from publicly discussing or disseminating information pertaining to the case.
  • “Witness” is defined as experts consulted in case-building or called by the Defense or the State for either pretrial or trial testimony, law enforcement officers involved in investigating the case, people who either will testify or have already testified in pretrial or adjudicative proceedings in this case, and all parties/caseworkers/parents/siblings/relatives by blood or marriage/foster parents in this case.

This gag order effectively prevents all information regarding the case from being made public until trial. The curious thing about the gag order is that any professional who could be consulted or called as a witness and any private individual who could be called as a witness is prevented from discussing this case, even in the hypothetical. I hope that cameras are allowed in the courtroom, and I hope those professionals are allowed to publicly discuss the case after trial.

The only details of the Sept. 15 and Oct. 25 assaults that were made public before the gag order was issued is that at least two perpetrators were involved in each assault. Until the trial occurs, we likely won’t find out anything else about these two assaults. I do think it’s safe to say that, with one of the Defense attorneys saying that “as many as 28 or more” indictments could occur, more than two perpetrators were likely involved in each of the earlier attacks.

While seedy information on the attackers is available, much more has been made of the opinions of outsiders about the victim and her family in press accounts. More weight seems to have been given to salacious quotes about the girl , such as:

  • “. . . .this girl was seen wandering at all hours with no supervision and pretending to be much older,” -- A Cleveland resident.
  • “This was not a case of a child who was enslaved or taken advantage of,” -- A male Defense attorney.
  • “. . . She was 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.” -- Neighbors of the abandoned trailer, as paraphrased by the New York Times.
  • “Where was her mother? . . . How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?” -- A female neighbor.
  • “Maturity or not, I’m pretty sure she knew what she was doing,” -- A female Cleveland cashier.
  • “. . . Where were the parents?” -- A Cleveland youth worker who noticed a change in the girl’s disposition in October 2010.
  • “If this girl did not live in that neighborhood, at 11 years of age, how was that child in that community experiencing sex with so many African-American men? Where was her mother? Where was her father?” -- A male black civil-rights activist.
  • “They had seen the girl, dressed provocatively and in makeup, hanging out near the area [of the assault] both before and after Nov. 28,” -- Cleveland residents, as paraphrased by the Associated Press.
  • “She lied about her age. Them boys didn't rape her. She wanted this to happen . . . If she hadn’t put herself in that predicament, this would never have happened,” -- A female Houston resident who grew up in Cleveland.
  • “The first house you need to stop at is her mama and daddy’s house,” -- The same male black civil-rights activist.

Oh, but yes -- Blame the parents (where were they?), blame the victim (if she hadn’t put herself there, she wanted it, she‘s lying, she was physically developed), blame the times (all kids try to look and act older than they are), blame anything and anyone, everything and everyone, except the males who had sex with an 11-year-old girl.

“These guys knew she was in middle school. You could tell that whenever you talked to her,” her mother told a local newspaper.

Not so much seems to have been made in press accounts of the salacious information available on the attackers such as:

  • One is convicted drug dealer and possessor.
  • One 19 -year-old has been declared the father of five children within the past year and has a pending manslaughter charge.
  • One is accused of participating in a home-invasion robbery in which the homeowner was shot, and the next day of participating in an armed robbery of a grocery store.
  • One writes verses as an aspiring rap music star.
  • One 17 -year-old has a newborn baby with a 15 -year-old girl.
  • One 21 -year-old (older brother to the perpetrator immediately above) already had another sexual assault of a child charge pending against him as well as a robbery charge for stealing his own sister’s car at gunpoint.
  • Two 19 -year-old cousins are two of only 4 Defendants charged with “continuous” sexual assault of the girl on multiple occasions.
  • One was attending Cleveland ISD’s dropout recovery program, but has no prior criminal record.
  • A 26 -year-old prior mental health employee has no prior criminal record.
  • A 21 -year-old prior correctional employee has no prior criminal record.
  • An 18 -year-old and a juvenile star player who were starters on the Cleveland High School basketball team have no prior criminal records.

The victim and her family began receiving threatening telephone calls after the investigation became public, and the local police were concerned that they were originating from people seeking revenge. Sometime in February 2011, Child Protective Services quietly removed the girl from her home, school, and family, and placed her in a foster family in another school district for her own protection. The victim has very limited access to her own family.

So, while a black civil-right activist stirs the pot, the child victim is in hiding, and a gag order prevents any actual useful information from surfacing, the town and the press are busying themselves playing “Pin the Tail on the Victim” in the same way that a mob of males played “Hide the Sausage” inside an 11 -year-old girl. Conveniently, they all seem to forget the fact that an 11-year-old girl cannot give consent to any form of sexual activity. Period.

“The police think we may be in danger. Because if they can’t get my 11-year-old, they might take out their revenge on us,” her mother told a local newspaper. “They keep calling and asking for her. They don’t believe me when I say that she’s not here and cuss us out. They’re trying to find her, this is the time when she needs us the most,“ she said.

The (male) black civil rights activist tried to make something of the facthat the 11 -year-old victim didn’t report the rape to authorities herself, asking why she didn’t and implying that she is hiding something by not having done so.

Amanda Marcotte has the answer for that particular question, an answer that I couldn’t phrase any better:

Girls suffer from harassment, violence and rape all the time, but they rarely tell. And the reason is that while girls may not know much about sex or men or the world, they pick up on what this alleged victim is suffering now. They instinctively know that to tell is to invite judgment, to have people ask not, “What kind of man would assault a child?” but “What did she do to invite this abuse?”

Consider the case of Samantha Kelly, a 14 -year-old girl who went public with a rape allegation against an 18 -year-old classmate. After schoolmates and townspeople terrorized her for the allegation, she committed suicide Nov. 8, 2010 in her home. This case received enough national attention that we blogged about it on Nov. 17, 2010. According to court records in the Cleveland case, Kelly’s suicide and the resulting media coverage of the case occurred between the first and second assaults of the Cleveland victim.

There’s no way to know if the Cleveland victim or her family heard about the Kelly case. There’s no way to know if the Cleveland victim even told her family about the assaults before an interview with the Cleveland ISD Police Chief prompted by a classmate‘s alerting a teacher about the existence of the explicit video of the Nov. 28 assault. One thing there is to know, though, as Amanda Marcotte again phrases very well:

. . . Young men who would do such a thing live in the same world we all do. They notice that it’s the victim and not the rapists who are assailed by the community and the media when a rape is reported. They notice that people blame the victim for what she was wearing or who she had sex with before. They notice that it’s the victim who has to move away, not the alleged perpetrators.

Anyone who took all this in should be forgiven for assuming that when a rape occurs, the crime was being raped, not being a rapist. And we shouldn’t be surprised when some would-be rapists take all these social signals shifting blame from rapists to victims, and decide that if they raped they probably will get away with it. All too often, they do.

After a chat with an attorney, I’ve learned that the bystanders cannot be charged as accessories to the assaults, but I sure hope to Hell the ones who were photographing and recording videos are charged with manufacturing and distributing child pornography. That seems like a slam-dunk once the Prosecutor’s office finishes their investigation.

I’d also like to hope that during the trial we find out that one, just one, of those males made an attempt to speak out, stop the assaults, call for help, leave the scene, something. I’d like to think that with the possible list of 28+ suspects that just one of them had a second thought about what was happening right in front of him.

Don’t talk to me about, “You know how young men are, nothing to be done about it.” Raging hormones are not an excuse to have sex with a child, regardless of whether or not she’s physically developed.

This isn’t a case of social pressure, emotional extortion, or “if you loved me” manipulation common among teenaged boys dating girls close to their own age. This is a pack of rabid dogs who knew damned good and well that they were having sex with a young girl, and who were likely sexually excited by that fact and also by the fact that they were displaying that power over her to others, in real-time. Because males are notoriously exhibitionistic when it comes to sex, the bystanders were probably as instrumental in the attacks continuing as the perpetrators themselves.

While these males are stupid (it‘s okay if she doesn‘t say no), ignorant (having sex with the under-aged = jail), predatory (she can‘t stop me), characterless (they’re doing it, so will I), sociopathic (I can take what I want), or some combination of all of these, it’s their actions, not the root causes of those actions, for which they deserve jail time.

Jail time while labeled as a child sexual abuser is particularly hard time, and I hope the Prosecutor doesn’t drop a single ball in the juggling act required to charge and prosecute every single one of them to the fullest extent of the law.

Tomorrow's Post: Victim-Blaming Part 2: The Reasons We Do It


Further Reading on the Cleveland Case:

1 comment:

  1. Let's see ... Shoot them ... Sterilize their grandparents, parents, and any offspring they may have had ... Then shoot them again .. But first ... Offer a free carton of cigarettes to their cell mate to, well, you get the idea.