According to a CNN.com report, at least 18 young men have been charged with the sexual assault of an 11-year-girl in Cleveland, Texas. In a press conference Friday, local police stated that four students in the Cleveland independent school district were among those under investigation for aggravated assault of a child under the age of 14; assistant police chief Darrell Broussard states that there may be additional persons of interest in the investigation. The 18 suspects charged are between the ages of 14 and 27 (13 minors and 4 adults) and appeared in a Liberty County courthouse Monday to face the charges.
The alleged incident took place last year and has become the subject of great controversy in the small town, which is about 50 miles outside of Houston. CNN affiliate KHOU quoted the mother of one of the suspects: “I just hope everything comes out well, because some of these kids are innocent.” The adults in the case could face twenty five years to life in prison, as a sexual abuse is a first degree felony in the state of Texas.
The girl is now in a safe house, as there is concern that friends and family of the men charged may seek retribution. According to CHRON, a Houston news outlet, she was recently allowed a brief visit to her mother, who was hospitalized for an undisclosed illness. “My daughter was crying and crying and hugging on me,” her mother stated. “She didn’t want to leave. She misses her family and wants to come home.”
The family has been subject to harassing phone calls and the criticism of Cleveland residents, who have focused their blame on the child’s parents instead of the alleged assailants. The child had been seen the day of the assault wandering around in a rough area of town wearing “dark makeup” and hanging outside of an abandoned trailer, where police say the incident took place. Cleveland resident Kisha Williams asked “Where were they when this girl was seen wandering at all hours with no supervision and pretending to be much older?” Police may soon relocate the entire family, as there is concern that someone may try to harm them since they cannot reach the victim.
According to the police, a 19 year old convinced the child to go for a ride with him and two other young men. She was then taken to a house and ordered to strip, told that if she didn’t, she would be beaten by other girls and left without a ride home. She was then forced to have sex with “multiple young men”, according to CHRON; four more men were invited to the house to participate. When someone returned home, the group moved to the aforementioned trailer and continued the assault, which was documented by a number of the men via cell phone pictures and video clips. The recordings were then circulated around Cleveland High School and a student informed school administrators. Included on the video clips were star athletes and 21-year-old Isaiah Rashad Ross, whose father is the vice president of the school board. A number of the suspects have prior criminal histories, including drug, robbery and manslaughter charges.
While we rarely hear about assault cases of this magnitude, a startling number of rape cases involve multiple assailants. Noted scholar and activist Dr. L’Heureux Dumi Lewis states that an estimated 10 to 33 percent of sexual assaults are “gang rapes”:
“Psychologically most common to these occurrences is an emphasis on power, displaying heterosexuality to other men, and drifting – where people commit crime that they may not agree with following others in a group. In short, gang rape is a group problem that makes clear we have to collectively change how we think about what it means to be a man and the role of power in our lives. At the core of the heinous act is often an attempt to validate one’s masculinity to others. Non-participation could mean being pushed out of the group or being “outed” (read: labeled as gay and this ‘not a real man’). If we don’t teach our boys to think differently about what it means to be a man, we will continue to be plagued by this issue.”
The case has caused great struggle for the victim’s family. The victim’s older sister told CHRON that her parents have considered separating and that her sister is hesitant about going through with the criminal cases. Her mother is insistent that she does, as the assailants need to be punished for what they have done: “These guys knew she was in middle school,” she said. “You could tell that whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed bears.”