The public editor of the New York Times acknowledged today (March 11, 2011) that Times article on the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl was flawed and not balanced in its coverage. He has promised there will be a more detailed follow-up article.
To read his response to readers’ complaints, click on this link: Gang Rape Story Lacked Balance.
My original post on this issue remains below. (At the very bottom of this post, you can find links to a blogger, Liz Henry, who is looking into ways to establish a fund for the victim and has also found contacts for counseling services for rape survivors.)
I was greatly disappointed by an article in the New York Times (March 8, 2011) about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl.
Entitled Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town and written by James C. McKinley Jr., the article quotes various members of the town where the rape occurred as they seemingly blame the little girl and/or her mother for the attack and express sympathy for the accused rapists.
Various people quoted criticized how the 11-year-old girl dressed, wore her make-up, and whom she was friends with. Her mother was accused of not keeping an eye on her. One person actually said of the rapists, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.”
As if the girl doesn’t?
The girl was kidnapped and gang raped by 18 men of varying ages. It doesn’t matter what she was wearing or what her mother’s parenting style is, no one ever deserves to be raped.
There is no excuse for raping anyone, especially a child!!!
The New York Times did not provide balanced coverage–such as asking school principals and counselors if other children, particularly girls, have expressed anxiety after their classmate’s attack and what is being done to counsel them. Nor did they quote any rape counselors or survivors or advocates for victims of sexual assault.
Instead we get a poorly written article with heinous quotes from ignorant people who seem to want to blame the victim and her mother. (And if they are not blaming the victim and her mother, the Times article sure doesn’t make that clear.)
I wrote a letter to the Public Editor at the New York Times, Arthur S. Brisbane (firstname.lastname@example.org), because I feel very strongly that the Times needs to speak to the writer, editor, copyeditors and perhaps the entire staff about the numerous problems in the tone, content and context of this article. I have pasted my letter below:
To the Editor:
I am writing about the article (March 8, 2011) “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town” by James C. McKinley, Jr.
I believe there are a number of issues that the Times needs to address regarding the writing and editing of this article about the rape of an 11 year old girl.
The article seems to be an attempt to understand how a heinous act of gang rape (at least 18 males may have been involved in the rape of an 11-year-old girl) is affecting the town where it occurred. I understand it’s impossible for the reporter to talk directly to the victim as her identify is rightfully being protected. But why the “town” is considered more important than how the rape is affecting other young girls and their sense of security is the article’s first problem.
First of all, the “town” is not a person but a place. The townspeople interviewed do not seem to be a comprehensive survey of residents. Nowhere does the reporter give us a sense of how many people he interviewed.
The people whom he chose to quote showed more sympathy toward the accused rapists than the raped child. Especially egregious is this quote: “These boys will have to live with this the rest of their lives.” And the little girl will not?
Secondly, the reporter’s choice of language gives the impression that the girl is guilty somehow of causing her own gang rape.
For example, Mr. McKinley, Jr., writes about questions the residents are grappling with: “Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?”
The use of passive voice here– “have been drawn into”– suggests that the men did not act of their own volition but were somehow tricked or forced into behavior they did not actively seek to do. Yet they were caught precisely because many of these men had photographed themselves and their friends raping the girl. This suggests they were not mindless zombies who were “drawn into” something but active participants.
The use of the phrase “their young men” shows sympathy and a sense of belonging/acceptance of the attackers.
The use of “act” rather than “attack” (or “rape”!) de-emphasizes the violence of the gang rape. After all, the act of reading a newspaper and the act of gang raping an eleven year old are not co-equal, although the word “act” is in and of itself neutral of all connotations, bad or good, in both sentences. Why then use “act” instead of “rape”?
Why didn’t the reporter phrase the question, “How could these young men rape an 11 year old girl?”
Finally, speculation as to how the girl was dressed, whether she was wearing make-up, and whether she looked like a 20-year-old were entirely inappropriate.
Rape is rape. An eleven year old is an eleven year old, no matter how she is dressed.
I would hope that you will be discussing the very substantive problems and biases inherent in this article with the reporter, editor and copyeditors responsible as well as with other staff at the New York Times.
Readers such as I have come to expect better reporting and writing than this from the Times.
I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by this article.
For more information about rape clinics and resources available to help the little girl, blogger Liz Henry has listed a number of resources in the community: How to Help the 11-year-old Girl in Texas Who Got Gang Raped.
There is also an online petition from change.org demanding an apology from the Times: Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape. While I doubt the Times will apologize, I did sign in the hopes that the petition will make the New York Times re-examine how they report and edit stories about rape.