Anyone with a soul can hardly stand to hear the story. In Texas, eighteen men ranging from middle schoolers to a 27-year-old, are facing charges of abuse and assault for gangraping and 11-year-old girl.

In December, when a cellphone video of the rape began circulating around her elementary school, a friend of the 11-year-old told a teacher about the footage- alerting school officials and police to the attacks. For the past months, the rapes were covered at the local level, receiving national coverage beginning this week following the formal charges being brought against the perpetrators.  While 18 men have been arraigned, prosecutors now say they believe as many as 28 men were involved.

On Tuesday, March 8th, The New York Times published a piece by reporter James McKinley Jr. about the incident. But instead of looking at the rapes as crimes, McKinely uses his words to draw up an anthropological study sympathetic of a town that blames everyone except the men and boys responsible for the brutality in the first place.

While the piece describes the assortment of men being accused a real live humans, the victim is given the label seen on the police report of the crime. Personalizing these men, McKinley writes that:

“Five suspects are students at Cleveland High School, including two members of the basketball team. Another is the 21-year-old son of a school board member.”

The boys are ‘ordinary’ boys, they’re made to sound relatable and they belong to someone. Knowing these things and about the “working-class” town, readers are led to the set up of McKinely asking this question:

“…if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?”

The question is an insulting and dangerous one that assumes that rape is some a social force field instead of a crime. It also lends the benefit of the doubt to the perpetrators, assuming that their lives were too normal for them to ‘take part’ in this heinous crime.  And yet, while he crafts a sympathetic narrative around the men, boys and town- the victim, an 11-year-old girl subjected to hours of rape in an filthy, abandoned trailer is left to bear the responsibility for apparently tearing a community apart.

Even more egregious was McKinely’s use of sources to throw doubt on the character of the victim and her parenting. The reporter referenced town residents who imply that the 11-year-old girl was promiscuous:

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.”

Not only is it unacceptable that an editor at The New York Times allowed this piece to run with “some said” as a source, it basically elevates town hearsay to act as a cheap journalistic balancing tool. It serves as a prime example of the rape culture that plagues our entire society.

Whether it is a little girl or a woman in her own right, no victim should be blamed for her own rape. Reading the article, there is no mention that an 11-year-old can give consent to statutory rape. There is mention, again through town hearsay, about the responsibility of girl’s mother to know where she was. But to get into that debate is to miss the larger point- regardless of whether the mother was neglectful or frantically searching, what happened to her child is wrong.

Since the article ran on Tuesday, the New York Times has received enormous backlash from readers and activist groups calling on the paper to issue an apology for the article, which put the blame on the victim for the heinous rapes she suffered through. Allowing the piece to be cast as objective journalism is an insult to all Americans.

For McKinley, the profile of a town battered by societal changes took precedent over the victim violated by boys from that place. While he may view the background of the town as vital to the story he wanted to tell- it is interesting to see how the relatable aspects of a small town governed the story. In the Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war, reporters have a heightened sense of rape being used as violence and they portray it as such. But when an 11-year-old girl is told that she will be beaten up or raped by 18 different men and boys- we have the nerve to question whether or not she had an actual choice?

McKinley’s social lens frame fails because he does not look at the incident as indicative of but analogous to Cleveland, and the rest of ordinary America.  Not for a minute does he consider how disturbing it is that our culture has become so accustomed with rape culture that it does ask how it is that the town’s population could stand by as nearly 30 of it’s young men used sexual violence against a little girl.  Nor does he examine why those men then felt entitled enough about their actions to brag.

We live in a country where 1 in 4 women will experience sexual assault in her lifetime and are surrounded by a media culture that does not take rape seriously as a crime. Rather, our society claims rape is an allegation that says more about the victims’ flaws than the perpetrator’s wrongful actions. Journalism faces many pressures to be objective, but it’s ability to show us what’s wrong in our world can often give us the stepping stone to change it.

As women we cannot afford to be mere observers. This little girl has endured one of the traumatizing experiences anyone can face. She had many things taken from her- her childhood, among them. By speaking out against the New York Times’ endorsement of rape culture, we send a message that this girl is a victim not the cause. And we remind her as women with years behind us, that her spirit may be broken, her dignity cannot be taken away.

Tell us your thoughts and join us in signing Change.org’s petition, “Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape.”

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  • Emelyne

    People always cover for their own kind and in this case, McKinley probably sees nothing wrong with the rape of an 11 year old, and is therefore painting these monsters as ordinary citizens. Only a deluded family member/friend, or a fellow pedophile rapist could even try to justify this. What if it’s been an 11 month old? Is society at large going to accuse a baby of being seductive and acting grown, too? Once again, as it has been since we’ve started writing history, a woman (who isn’t even a woman yet) is the Jezebel, the harlot who seduced the weak men and tore is morality assunder by “luring” him to commit a crime against her body. With the advant of religion, women have always been painted as the bringers of sin and honestly, if God exists, he or she will rightly punish these savages for how they have destroyed the life of a child who’d barely even lived yet.

  • Keilah

    Thank you for covering this story and putting this male reporter on blast! It is time that women start speaking out in defense of women who are victims and for our rights. This story enrages me, but what breaks my heart is the fact that horrors like this occur more often than we know or would even like to imagine. It is time to hold boys and men accountable, whatever their social or economic status is. Rape is not a rite of passage activity or recreation – it is a crime and the murder of someone’s soul!!!

  • Sick Sick

    I understand the whole trial by jury & all, what I don’t understand is, in a case like this, where they not only basically admitted to the rape, but also video taped it & then post it online (a real bunch’a “thinkers” there, eh?), WTF is there to plea to or defend? I don’t believe EVERYBODY is entitled to a fair trial. Not when you are basically caught red handed. Their “guilt” isn’t even in question. The only decision should be how many decades they spend in jail. If I had my way, they only choice these sick, twisted degenerate bastards would have would be, what type of object would they like to be castrated with? Sharp or dull? Rusty or non-rusty? Clean or dirty? If they chose dull, rusty & dirty, they can have 5 years off their mandatory, minimum 25 year sentence. I think that’s MORE than fair.

  • They should take all of them animals
    Put each of them in a cage with 18 of the most gross animals in prison so they can run a train on them one by one for hours and hours so they can see just how it feels when your world was destroyed.also the judicial system is really at faught for any rape just as well as the rapist.why? Because if you castrate everyone of them the next person would think before they do something stupid like rape….if they never do it would be more rapes like this to come so sad!if that were one of my daughters I would kill eachone of them cause the system won’t do shit but put them in prison for a little time while the child have to live with that forever..

  • Those are animals that needs to be fed to the animals..so I feel some people don’t deserve a trial they deserve what they did to the little girl.