The horrific story of the 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, TX who was gang raped in November continues to unfold. Though a gag order was recently approved in the case, preventing the accused, the victim and both the prosecution and defense from speaking to the media, shocking new details are still being gathered from court documents. According to News Talk 670 KBOI, the victim may have been sexually assaulted more than once by some of the suspects over a period of four months.
Court documents obtained by the Cleveland Advocate suggest that “four of the defendants have been charged with a more serious felony of continuous sexual abuse of a child because they are accused of assaulting the girl on two or more dates.” The alleged assaults occurred between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1. Only four of the 18 defendants remain in jail; 17 pleaded not guilty to the crime. One of the defendants who is not currently in jail has another sexual assault case pending.
This unbelievable turn of events has stirred racial tensions in Cleveland and the resulting news coverage has been widely criticized. The New York Times apologized for its initial coverage of the story, saying it “lacked balance” and didn’t give proper attention to the concerns of the victim. This week, Florida Republican Kathleen Passidomo co-opted the victim’s tragedy to push for the passage of the so-called “sagging pants bill” that would require a dress code in Florida schools. While discussing the bill’s merits, Passidomo said:
There was an article about an 11-year-old girl who was gang raped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute. And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it’s incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn’t happen to our students.
Attention-grabbing headlines continue to appear surrounding this case, like the one I read this morning in ColorLines Magazine: “After Cleveland, Texas: Eight Ways Black Men Can Fight Rape.” Given the way the media has covered this case thus far, I expected to read another article sympathizing with the accused, suggesting ways black men could fight rape allegations. Instead I found a really insightful analysis of rape culture by Akiba Solomon, an African-American woman who says she stands in solidarity with both the victim and “with black people who are disproportionately criminalized and have suffered all matter of hell due to false accusations.”
You should read her entire piece, and this piece she’s responding to by Dr. L’Heureux Dumi Lewis about sexual violence, but I’ll quote a few passages here where I think Solomon gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to victim-blaming. She writes:
Then we have to seriously consider the power of stereotypes. On one side you have people suggesting that the 11-year-old was presenting herself as older, which plays directly into the hot-blooded Latina stereotype. They’ve portrayed her as sexually insatiable, which means she’s not a victim but a predator.
And regarding the victim’s mother:
“People have asked about the victim’s mother. But if we’re going to ask about parenting, our first question should be, Where were the boys’ and young men’s parents?’ Questioning the girl’s parents also assumes that families have the ability to stop bad things from happening. The truth is, bad things happen to kids who are well-parented. The more we make parenting a magic bullet, the less we concentrate on using our resources to heal hurt folks so they don’t hurt others.