Texas gang rape case provides chance for reporters to thoughtfully profile preteen victim

9 Mar

The NYTimes published  a story yesterday about an 11-year-old girl who was gang-raped in Cleveland, Texas. Besides being yet another advertisement for why no one should ever want to live in small town Texas, the story is infuriating the bejeesus out of a number of feminist blogs today for grafs such as the following:

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.

Victim-blaming? Yes. It’s a lazy reporter including rote details that sound copied out of a 1920s-era stylebook for writing about gang rape cases. “She was known as a woman of loose morals” is a mandatory clause, or something.

Do I know he’s a lazy writer? Yes. I’m going to conclude that from the “some said” attribution he uses that is becoming as popular as the more familiar “according to some experts.” How many neighbors said this? Did they know the girl or her family personally? Why were they standing around watching children on a playground? Are they Grant Storms?

But what’s even more annoying about this wannabe gothic Faulkner tale that writer James C. McKinley crafts for us is that it’s constructed in the most formulaic framework possible. The whole “small town shocked by terrible events” one is kind of a go-to standby for when you want to write a story about something horrible but it’s hard to get actual information beyond a police report. So, you get statements from neighbors. Apparently this consisted of: “Eh, this one about how she kind of wore too much makeup and stuff will do the trick.” Boom.

The Times ran a similar small-town-disbelief story just last week about the Julie Schenecker case. This Texas article, however, is even worse in that it’s written with the least possible amount of care for the case itself and rather as though it’s some kind of generic horrible thing that happens in our ghostlike, abandoned-trailer-ridden post-apocalyptic America.

To see what McKinley skipped out on, just read some of the other articles about the case.

The Houston Chronicle used the same “our town is shaken” angle. But, while much more extensive, the Chronicle article quickly stops being about the town and more about the girl; it includes an interview with the girl’s mother and notes that the girl has been placed in foster care and removed from her home because of constant threatening phone calls (FUCKING INSANE), as well as the fact that the girl is in a gifted and talented program. It also includes details about the girl’s Facebook page:

Sometimes she comes across like a little girl, such as when she talks of her special talent for making “weird sound effects” and “running in circles” to overcome nervousness.

But she also makes flamboyant statements about drinking, smoking and sex. Yet her vulnerability pokes through the tough veneer as she tells of “being hurt many times,” where she “settled for less” and “let people take advantage” and “walk all over” her. She vows to learn from her mistakes.

Look at this poor sad little girl (and look at what good access I got! said the reporter). The girl’s Facebook page is a more direct source than quoting “some” neighbors for clues about the girl’s behavior, I guess. But, mysteriously, none of the accusers’ Facebook profiles is included, and the names of the adult accusers have been published, so they are searchable.

The real problem is that it’s not customary to profile rape victims. You do that when they actually kill her.

Other things to note:

None of the other articles about the case that I read said much about the accuser’s personalities or activities except that one was a star athlete at the local high school. A star on the Rape Team? Unknown. Did anyone ask where the hell the underage boys’ parents were? Not that we know of. Only the CNN Wire produced a quote from one of the accused rapist’s parents:

“It just seems like a dream,” said Sherry Fletcher, whose 20-year-old son Devo Shaun Green is among those charged according to Cleveland police. “I just hope everything comes out well, because some of these kids are innocent.”

Well, that’s pretty much the complete opposite of wondering where she went wrong with her son.

The CNN Wire story does not include any quotes of residents who feel that the girl was wearing too much makeup. Neither does the AP story, which has no quotes from residents.

And, interestingly, the AP alone (from my search) mentioned that this apparently wasn’t even the first time the girl had been raped (jesus, guys):

Court records allege the girl was raped on at least three different occasions last year. Besides the Nov. 28 attack, indictments in the case say there also were attacks on Sept. 15 and Oct. 25. Each time, at least two individuals were involved in the attacks.

So the moral of this sad story is that if you’re going to put an article title on a piece about how a whole town is being torn apart by a horrible rape case, try to interview more than just three people in the town before you do a bait-and-switch tack and talk about the girl. And ask the real questions: was she hot? was it blue eyeshadow or purple? how many times had she had sex before? does she like missionary or doggie style? If that’s your angle, fucking commit.

 

 

UPDATE: The NYTimes Public Editor responds to the article with a “whoops.”

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2 Responses to “Texas gang rape case provides chance for reporters to thoughtfully profile preteen victim”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Friday Hero of the Day: Abercrombie protest lady « pukingponies - April 1, 2011

    […] general I think it’s useless to engage with stupid Abercrombie ploys to turn your 11-year-old “dresses older than she should” daughter into a gang-rape victim by marketing push-up bikinis to children because, guess what, they […]

  2. AP writes laziest possible article about SlutWalks « pukingponies - May 6, 2011

    […] the scale for what makes a “slut” is totally arbitrary and, as we have seen, even an 11-year-old girl can be deemed a slut by a major news […]

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