Last week the New York Times author James McKinley wrote a story on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas. In today’s culture, rape and violence towards women is unfortunately saturating our media, and McKinley’s piece played into the most common errors of reporting rape.
His article, titled “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town” (was it the town that was assaulted? really? no it was a CHILD), not only has concerns about the young men that assaulted the girl, but goes on to almost suggest this attack was the girls fault, and even her mother’s fault for not knowing where her daughter is at all times (why was there no mention of the girl’s father?).
Classic victim blaming excerpt from the article:
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?”
It is appalling that Times would allow such an article to be published. But it is yet another example of the rape narrative in our movies, tv shows, and language (“Dude, that test raped me!”) that is replacing the horror of rape with drama, victim blaming, and carelessness.
What’s more this article on “The Official
Douche Roni Weiss Blog” suggests that in fact the responsibility of the victim is to be taken into account – that if women didn’t walk down dark alleys alone or kept pepper spray with them, they wouldn’t be attacked.
Women get raped in bikinis and buquas, drunk or sober, in a dark alley or not – the problem is NOT the preparedness of the women against attacks, but the fact that rapists are present. As one rape survivor says,
“Left to my own devices, I never would have been raped. The rapist was really the key component to the whole thing. I was sober; hardly scantily clad (another phrase appearing once in the article), I was wearing sweatpants and an oversized t-shirt; I was at home; my sexual history was, literally, nonexistent—I was a virgin; I struggled; I said no. There have been times since when I have been walking home, alone, after a few drinks, wearing something that might have shown a bit of leg or cleavage, and I wasn’t raped. The difference was not in what I was doing. The difference was the presence of a rapist.”
But back to the main idea of the depiction of rape in the media.
As Roxane Gay puts it, “The way we currently represent rape, in books, in newspapers, on television, on the silver screen, often allows us to ignore the material realities of rape, the impact of rape, the meaning of rape.”
Our language and use of language effects our reality. As journalists, writers, and consumers of media we need to do a better job of treating sexual assault crimes and rape more carefully and consciously.