Sympathy for the Rapist

Today's "Horrible Read of the Morning" comes from The New York Times, which reports on a terrible sexual assault in Cleveland, Texas, where 18 men and boys raped an 11-year-old girl. In telling the story, the Times reserves most of its sympathy for the victim, which isn't unusual. Unless, of course, your "victims" are the rapists themselves:

The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?

“It’s just destroyed our community,” said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” […]

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?”


These are appalling quotes, to say the least. Indeed, between the pro-rapist sympathy -- "How will they ever get past this!" -- and the victim-blaming -- "Obviously, the child was asking for it." -- The New York Times deserves nothing but scorn for its willingness to shine the nicest light on the rapists of an 11-year-old girl. Sadly, this is par for the course in almost every public discussion of rape and violence against women. Lara Logan is raped in Egypt, and the media's first response is to blame her looks. Ines Sainz, a reporter for TV Azteca, is sexually harassed by players for the New York Jets, and sports commentators immediately wondered if she was "asking for it?" Mel Gibson threatens to beat his wife, and the Today Show opts to point out her "passive aggression."

Of course, these are just the high-profile incidents. In places across the world, women are blamed, scorned, and sometimes killed for the actions of molesters, rapists, and those who prey on women. A 15-year-old girl is scolded for drinking after being gang-raped during her prom. In Canada last month, a convicted rapist was acquitted because -- according to the judge -- "there was sex in the air" and the woman was looking to "party." In Pakistan last year, 500 women were killed for suspected affairs and "adultery" (read: rape). And here, in the United States, it's fairly common to hear prison rape dismissed as something criminals "deserve" for breaking the law. Unfortunately, as you've probably guessed, I could go on ad infinitum with examples of victim-blaming.

Which is to say this: The most depressing thing about that New York Times story isn't the victim-blaming per se. Rather, it's the extent to which it reveals the ubiquity and casual acceptance of victim-blaming. Put another way, if our culture doesn't particularly care about the victims of sexual assault, then why should The New York Times?

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