* This post contains triggers for sexual assault victims.
In Cleveland, Texas, 18 young men and boys have been charged with participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in an abandoned trailer home. As if the event weren’t awful enough, the papers reporting the incident aren’t exactly being, oh, say, fair in their reportage.
The assaults are a series of four incidents that allegedly took place in late 2010. The New York Times first reported on the case of “Regina” back in March of 2011.
The story, already red-hot, became inflammatory when it was reported that all of the suspects were black and the victim Hispanic. Friends and relatives of the men and boys were quoted defending them and blaming the girl, who they said acted much older than 11, wearing makeup and sexy clothes. They speculated that she had probably lied about her age, so how were the males to know? The New York Times was roundly castigated for its “rape-friendly” coverage of the assault, which was heavy on sympathetic quotes about the defendants and uncritical of malicious comments about the victim. After receiving tens of thousands of readers’ complaints, the Times took the extraordinary step of sending its reporter back to Cleveland for a do-over, and the media began to cover its own coverage.
I read that first New York Times piece (which can be found here) when it was originally published. It’s just as infuriating now as it was then. Just so we’re clear, I have never been sexually assaulted. I have, however, been the victim of malicious rumors, slut-shaming, and general bullshit related to my concealed pregnancy at 15.
The birth father received calls of congratulations while I became The Slut for the ten-mile radius of our respective communities. It was years before I could introduce myself as “Liz Henry” and not witness whisper-down-the-lane – that’s her – happen before my eyes.
Everyone knew. Everyone.
Everyone in the middle school. The two high schools. Even the Catholic High school.
It was fucking ridiculous.
This is why I’m not afraid of Internet trolls. I have faced true and lasting, in-your-face ridicule. During my impressionable teen years. It was so bad, I sought Jesus. For a hot minute. But there I was, during lunch, with a pink Bible and a highlighter.
Traumatic events will make you do ridiculous things. Even me.
But somehow I survived. Without a needle. Or vodka. I do eat my feelings, which I’m working on. Overall, I’m pretty normal for the awfulness of being “just a baby who had a baby.”
After the vicious rumors that — at one point — had the assistant principal catching my newborn, I vowed to never participate in rumors. I don’t start them, spread them, or encourage anyone to tell them. Also, I will never be surprised at the ridiculous, could-never-be-true things that people, including those of authority, believe.
The teachers were just as bad as my peers. I went nowhere without a reputation.
It didn’t matter that I never had sex before I became pregnant. It’ s very After School Special, but also true that sometimes the first time is the charm. It also means I had really shitty luck. Which is why I never took up drugs. If I could get pregnant the first time outta the gate, who the hell knows what would’ve happened to me if I had taken up with a needle or a pipe.
So I took up punk rebellion and head banged my way to feminism and political awareness.
The fact remains: I had a baby. It does not matter the amount of people I did or did not sleep with. Just like it doesn’t matter if an 11-year-old dresses “sexy.” This CHILD was raped! Repeatedly. By men of various ages (16 to 27), on various occasions. Allegedly.
I do not pretend to know what it feels like to be a victim of sexual assault. I do not. I thank goddess that when I was 15, you had to pay for AOL by the minute. Which means I went to someone else’s house to use the thing that Al Gore created. If this happened to me now, there is the potential that I would never be able to escape that moment. Regina’s assailants captured the assaults on their cell phones in pictures and video; and it was spread throughout the community. Then, main stream publications, like the Times, joined in and published — for the country, the world – sympathetic quotes about the rapists.
Remember: never be shocked.
My heart aches for what happened to this girl.
And how far we have yet to travel when it comes to blaming women and young girls for crimes committed against them. And how much we excuse men and boys because “a stiff dick has no conscience.” A charming quote from the great-grandmother of an alleged assailant.
The GQ story is the most comprehensive story to date. Please find the time to read it. If you can. It’s no coincidence that the reporter who investigated was raped, in the back of a car, when she was 15. Like Regina, like me, too, she faced an onslaught of slut-shaming. Unable to confide in her closest friends and family, she remade herself as a loner and a writer.
The other week, I sat down to watch Intervention. The counselor, during the pre-meeting with the addict’s family said: “secrets keep people sick.”
And sympathy for rapists keeps them on the street.
When we invest in girls — especially girls at-risk – we participate in valuing their voices, desires, and potential.
Here’s what you can do:
- Donate to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) under the name Regina D. Stewart (the victim’s alias). This helps RAINN support victims of sexual assault through confidential counseling.
- Write a guest post about your slut-shaming, sexual assault, or any other story you would like to share and email it to liz (at) sixyearitch.com and I’ll post it. All names will be kept confidential and written under Regina D. Stewart unless stated otherwise.
- Take a personal pledge to “think before you share.”
- Support young girls in your community either through Girl Scouts of the USA, Girls, Inc., Girl Up, The Girl Effect, or any other girl-specific group in your community (and your community includes the world).
- Share this post with your readers on Twitter, Facebook, or on your own blog. Or, write your own story. Secrets keep people sick.
- Love your daughter without shaming her.
- Share this video to educate others about the power of investing in girls: