Did The New York Times Blame the 11-Year-Old Victim of a Texas Gang Rape?

There is so much that is horrid with regard to this story coming out of small-town East Texas: 18 men and teenage boys have been arrested in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, TX.

There’s what Feministing’s Chloe Angyal noted, that those quoted in the article seem strangely concerned with how participating in a gang rape is gonna be a real downer for the rapists (now that they’ve been caught). From The New York Times’ article:

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?

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

But then there’s the victim blaming. I mean, of course there is victim blaming, because we’re talking about rape here, and nobody gets raped who isn’t asking for it in some way, as we all know:

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.

Here’s what: I’m dismayed (but neither shocked nor surprised) that people have these kinds of thoughts about a young girl who was raped. Scrutinizing clothing and behavior is standard practice for rape victims–yes, even sometimes when those victims are 11 years old, as this child was. But I am downright angry that the Houston bureau chief of The New York Times, whose byline is on this piece: James C. McKinley, Jr., graduate of Cornell University and former editor of New Letters, thought that this information was relevant to print in a national news article.

He may as well have printed that “Residents in the neighborhood had steak for dinner” or “Residents in the neighborhood had a real rough day at the office” or “Residents in the neighborhood wanted Bristol Palin to win Dancing With The Stars” because those things are about as relevant to the article and the case as what an 11-year-old girl was wearing on or about the time she was PROBABLY GANG RAPED BY 18 OR MORE MEN IN AN ABANDONED TRAILER.

Printing victim blaming speculation about how slutty some people perceived an 11-year-old child dressing doesn’t give readers information they need. It doesn’t paint a picture that helps them understand the situation. It perpetuates rape culture and gives those who want one (and those people are many, as evidenced in said article) an excuse to dismiss the behavior of 18 men who have been suspected of, and I’ll say it again, gang-raping an 11-year-old girl. (Worth noting: blaming gang rape victims happens all the time. For example.)

I can’t change the minds of the people in Cleveland, TX and around the country and world who want to say the way an 11-year-old girl dressed got her gang raped. But I can hold James C. McKinley, Jr. responsible for reprinting unnecessary comments that damage rape victims everywhere. That was a shitty, irresponsible thing to do, McKinley, and I think The New York Times should do and should know better.

McKinley’s on Twitter. I’m asking him for an explanation and an apology. You should, too. (You can also Tweet @thepubliceditor and @nytimes.)

Update: It’s worth noting, as Jezebel has, that the Houston Chronicle‘s coverage was also astoundingly awful in the victim-blaming sphere.

And here’s a Change.org petition for you to sign.

This post has been reprinted from HayLadies. Andrea Grimes is a freelance journalist living in Dallas.

Photo of the Texas flag from Flickr user rcbodden under Creative Commons.


  1. Lenibriscoe says:

    I think it's also noteworthy that McKinley refers to the 19 year old rapist as a "boy" instead of a "man." This links to Wikipedia, not his Twitter. Do you have a link to his Twitter handle? Thanks.

  2. nikki04 says:

    I thought the EXACT SAME THING when I read that crap. More on how she dressed, how the ordeal would be with the rapists "for the rest of their lives", and how much "the community" was going to suffer – than about this 11 year old girl! It's unbelievable.

  3. Rachel W. says:

    In addition to the New York Times article's victim blaming, there was the other American news pastime, mother blaming:

    “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?”

    This culture often seems to have nothing better to do than blame everyone but the rapists for rape.

  4. Chris Shaver says:

    “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” – Not in Texas they don't, the penalty for raping a child in Texas is… (2007) The Texas Senate passed its long-awaited "Jessica's Law" Tuesday to protect children from sexual predators, but it reserved the death penalty for those twice convicted of the most heinous child rapes. If GANG rape is considered a separate and aggravated offense, it's very likely some of these boys are gonna FRY!

    The bill also creates a new offense for "continual sexual abuse" of a child, increases penalties for certain child sex offenses and removes the statute of limitations for victims of child sex crimes. Houston Chronicle (http://chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/4745929.html)

    "House Bill 8, sponsored by Greenville Senator Robert Deuell, would create a minimum sentence of 25 years for those convicted of an aggravated assault against a child under 14, with certain aggravating circumstances, such as kidnapping, threatening harm, actual bodily harm, or drugging the child. For a second offense, prosecutors would be given the option of seeking life without parole or the death penalty."

    • Jennifer says:

      That is awesome all states should put that in to affect!!!!! If someone rapes a child they should fry!!!!! Maybe then we could live in a world that parents would not have to worry about our children getting hurt like that. And would really make a statement right?

  5. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”

    Um. . . what about that poor girl?

    • Gotta love Texas. Them boys will have to live with it for the rest of their lives…which will be about six months. Which will include plenty of rape, only not the kind where they have the power. I think Texas is generally a giant steaming pile, but their express lane death penalty is just fine by me.

    • the biggest issue we have today in america with rape is that news always tries to make us feel sorry for the rapist instead of the actual vicitim. there is literally nothing that people can say that will change the fact that these “men” rapeed this innocent CHILD. the mother is not at blame here either, do people not understand how often children get abudcted from their parents. anything could have happened to seperate this little girl from her mother, but none of us have any right to blame the mother for not being there to stop this terrible event from happening to her child.

  6. Pam Redela says:

    Wow. While I'm not surprised, this is incredibly disheartening. Thanks for the sorely needed analysis. I hope this McKinley character reads your piece and does some public apologizing. Not exactly a happy "teachable moment", but here's to hoping…

  7. changita says:

    you're so right. i mean, what were the men wearing? if we need to know how she dressed, then clearly it is an issue of public safety to tell us how the perps dressed too. come on.

  8. Corinne Streicher says:

    Send McKinley an e-mail right here… http://www.nytimes.com/membercenter/emailus.html

    • Thanks for the link Corrinne I just sent an email. This kind of reporting is so irresponsible it makes me mad.

  9. N. Reisinger says:

    To me, at 11 years old, this child could have dressed as a hooker and said the words, "F me"…..and whomever the animals were that took advantage of her; EVEN THEN; should be tied and tarred and RUN OUT OF TOWN WITH THE BRAND OF SEXUAL PREDATOR ATTACHED TO THEIR NAME FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES.

  10. As a human it's disappointing to hear about instances of people blaming the victim, especially when the victim is a young minor. At least there are articles like this around to help counteract this kind of social bias.

  11. When I read about how the girl was dressed, I thought immediately about a young relative of mine who is about the same age and does a very good job of making herself look much older, much more sexual than she could possibly be. She's asking for attention from the wrong kind of people and doesn't realize it.. I hope her parents put a stop to it. I also hope the Texas "boys" get to pay for their crime. Nothing wrong at all with reporting what community members said about "the rest of their lives" and how much the community would suffer for it. It's all part of the context, and we need context, we need to know how the community thinks. We need more than easy judgmentalism with focus only on the victim. If you want an even larger relevant context, consider that no looting has taken place in Japan since the quake. Yes, it is relevant.

    • “Asking for attention”… nice victim-blaming there yourself

      • I think you may have mistaken in your judgement of what this person wrote, for as I see it, they did not blame any victim, only suggesting the attention resulting from inappropriate ‘maturity’ be negative. This poster suggested an unhealthy behavior, which, once removing the PC blinders can be recognized as something any responsible parent should address. Are we so concerned with self-empowerment that we sacrifice common sense?

  12. Some "men" are so desperate, an 11-year-old playing desperate attracts their carnality? Sad, desperate stuff, the 'rape-culture' male.

  13. I think it's fair to say that no girl or woman is 'asking for it' based on how she chooses to dress and such evidence is inadmissable in a court of law for good reason. However, if you are reporting on how the community has reacted to a crime, the fact that 1. they are talking about how she dressed 2. that they were talking about her mother's responsibility and 3. that there was more concern for the perpetrators than the victim seem like relevant details. It's a sad state of affairs but It seems extraordinarily unfair to claim that somehow the reporter was responsible for these attitudes and discourse.

    • I mistakenly hit a thumbs down on this comment. I meant to give it a thumbs up. I don't understand the anger toward the NYT reporter. He was reporting what people said and it is relevant. Where's the outrage at the people in the town for their views?

  14. yourbirdcansing88 says:

    Oh, yes, those poor boys "hav[ing] to live with this for the rest of their lives." What a shame that they had to MAKE A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO SEXUALLY ASSAULT AN 11-YEAR OLD. I think it goes without saying who the victim is here, folks. And yet somehow there's sympathy directed at these men who could just as easily have chosen to NOT rape someone. If these guys' lives are ruined, then the blame lies solely on them.

  15. "Did The New York Times Blame the 11-Year-Old Victim"?

  16. I am so determined to see justice for this poor child. Please sign the petition below & pass it along; I would love to get as many signatures as possible to show the mayor of this town that the world will not sit back while a little girl is blamed for her own violent gang-rape. This is not about race, creed, or orientation, this is about the brutal assault of an 11-year-old child. Please help, it’s the least we can do.


  17. SuziBeth says:

    An 11 year old CANNOT CONSENT TO SEX!! An 11 year old is a child; a minor. Even if she blatanly, specifically asked for sex (which, of course, she didn’t) it’s a crime to engage in sex with a minor. She could be wearing a nun’s habit, she could be wearing pasties and a g-string, it makes no difference: you can’t put your hands on a child. What is wrong with the “people” of Cleveland, TX? Is this town just full of ignorant halfwits?

  18. When all is said and done, no one deserves to be “raped” under any circumstances.

    However, I find it odd that a majority of women think that those among them who dress in a sexually provocative manner, and place themselves in compromising situations are not at least partly to blame. If someone were to drape themselves with salmon and walk through a Forest known to be densely populated by a large amount of Grizzly bears, and consequently be mauled / attacked… would the blame be placed entirely on the Bears? If one were to withdrawl $5,000 in cash, and walk around downtown Detroit counting it at 2:00AM, would that person not be partially to blame when they get robbed?

    I’m not saying that what happened was acceptable, but let’s not forget a valuable lesson that can be learned from this. If women don’t want to be raped, they probably shouldn’t visit the forest, and dress like they’re out to feed the bears. If they do, they shouldn’t be surprised when they get attacked by the bears.

    • Scotsgirl says:

      If a woman walks down the street wearing bikini bottoms and nipple tassels, it doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with any and every man who wants her. Really – it doesn’t. And any man who has sex with a woman who says no/weeps/is paralysed with fear – let alone a child, even if the child said yes! – is a predator. You don’t think so?

      Your salmon-and-grizzly-bear analogy rather misses the point. Rape is not about a man fancying a woman. It’s about power over a helpless victim, most clearly demonstrated by paedophilia, as in this case, and granny raping. Further, human beings, unlike hungry grizzly bears, should be able to control their brute urges.

      • It is about power, but also opportunity. And although I understand what you mean about this ‘not being about sex’ – because I have been raped – it actually is in a very troubling way; one we can’t recognize because we aren’t usually wired for such a disturbing gratification; sex as a weapon.
        If we stopped to see how the victim is perceived; weak, unimportant and available; It doesn’t matter if the attacker is completely wrong – he is still going to attack. Someone is still going to be hurt, marred for life.
        Why do we lock our doors, and teach our children not to talk to strangers? Because not everyone follows the same sense of morality, and so we look over our shoulders as we walk the street, when someone seems too close, and out the window before opening the door to an unfamiliar silhouette. Our attempts to safeguard ourselves may be ineffective, but we still think enough of it to try.
        What do we learn in Self Defense classes? Not only how to thwart an attack or escape, but how not to be a target.
        We have to be honest about what makes us a target to certain people. Recognize the mindset that will not resist an ugly want – wrong as it may be – and what makes us look like ideal victims – wrong as it may be – then use that knowledge to better protect ourselves. As much as we can.
        “Men aren’t animals who can’t control their urges at all”, but there are some men who won’t.

  19. WOMEN DO NOT “GET RAPED” – MEN RAPE WOMEN. Ergo, is up to men to STOP RAPING, not up to women to stop getting raped!

    It does NOT matter what one wears. Clothing or lack thereof does NOT justify or give permission for unwanted touching. Neither does a state of drunkenness, or if they are alone, or if they have had sex before. NONE of these things justify rape. It is always morally wrong. Really, what you are saying is that a manner of dress makes a female person public property, up for grabs for anyone who wants.

    Your bear analogy also fails 100% because actually, men aren’t animals who can’t control their urges at all. FYI.

    Your comment is ignorant and exactly because of this sort of thinking that enables this http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2012/04/16/17-year-old-imprisoned-for-failing-to-testify-against-her-alleged-rapist/. Of course, this just one example of a staggering amount of victim-blaming – for another example, not so long ago a 13-year-old girl in Iraq (I think) was raped, found guilty and sentenced to be stoned to death. They buried her alive, stoned her, dug her up, found that she was still alive, buried her again and stoned her to death. This is the kind of thing that you are supporting and adding to with your rape apologist, victim-blaming comment.

  20. Outrage and extremely cruel. The death penalty is too kind for these criminals and they should spend the rest of their natural lives being worked and tormented. That is what happens to the victims as I know from personal experience. It makes it so much worse when policemen describe the sexual assault of a 13 year old as “an intiation ceremony” or “nasty” as happened to me with Sargeant White of Hampshire Police and Paul Gration of Thames Valley.

    That poor little girl will suffer for the rest of her life if justice is not served.

  21. When 18 men gang rape a woman (of any age) we have to have a serious examination of the obvious mob mentality that must have played into this chain of events. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how sexy you dress, no woman’s actions could ever be perceived as her “asking” to get gang raped by 18 men. The fact that anyone could be suspicious of the victim’s motives and/or sympathize with the rapists in this situation is flat out preposterous.

  22. Not only should these animals spend the rest of their lives behind bars but so should any one else who thinks it was her fault … u are all animals and deserves to be in a cage !!!

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