This week in victim-blaming: 11-year-old gang-rape survivor as seductive “spider”

Two years ago, an 11-year-old Cleveland, Texas girl was gang-raped by 20 young men. The crime was recorded on cellphones and circulated amongst students at the local school before finally coming to the attention of the police. And since then plenty of allies have stepped forward to rally around the “real victims”: the rapists.

First the New York Times ran an article focused on the terrible strain the investigation had on the community. Forget about the survivor’s trauma: “The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core” and, as one concerned neighbor pointed out, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” The paper was also criticized for its focus on the young girl’s appearance and friends. Author James C. McKinley, Jr. wrote, based on local gossip, that “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.”

Now defense attorney Steve Taylor thinks that the 11-year-old rape victim, not her assailants, should be punished. As detailed in a Tuesday Chronicle article:

Former Cleveland Police Department Sgt. Chad Langdon, who was the lead investigator on the case, also testified that an 11-year-old – due to her emotional immaturity – legally cannot give consent for a sexual encounter.

Taylor questioned why the underage girl had not been charged with anything for choosing to violate that rule, indicating that she was “the reason” that the encounters happened.

“Like the spider and the fly. Wasn’t she saying, ‘Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly?’ ” Taylor asked.

Luckily Taylor isn’t representative of the Texas court system at large. Langdon called the defense attorney out on his rape apologia, replying “I wouldn’t call her a spider. I’d say she’s just an 11-year-old girl.” Given what we know about Texas prisons (and, well, prisons in general) it’s hard to cheer for a criminal prosecutor. But I have to hope that the court sees through this victim-blaming BS.

Taylor and his fellow champions of rape culture need to know that–however many have rushed forward to protect the poor, poor gang-rapists–reason, morality, and the law are not on their side.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/stellarose/ Stella

    I 100% agree with the fact these statements were wrong and absurd, and with all your coverage of this horrible situation. However, I would just remind people that criminal defense attorneys have a sworn legal and ethical duty to defend their clients however they can short of lying to the court. When you are a lawyer, you often have to advocate a position that is not so nice. Accused criminals have a right to zealous legal representations, so unless someone defends them, they cannot be convicted. So we should just keep that in mind when judging the lawyer.

    • http://feministing.com/members/red7eric/ Eric

      Vigorous defense, yes. But it’s not in any attorney’s job description to blame an 11-year old girl for her own rape. There are plenty of arguments that this attorney could be making (I assume that, at some point, he’ll say that over half of the boys participated because of extreme peer pressure) without being a total and utter cretin.

      The ONLY reason these statements are being made is because (sadly) they WORK. If every stupid-ass comment like this was greeted with a deafening public outcry to not blame raped women and girls – pre-pubescent or otherwise – for being victims of violent crime, we’d hear a lot less of it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/damigiana/ Danigiana DiVino

    @Stella: if my job required me to do something grossly immoral, I would have a different job. No, I can’t NOT criticize the lawyer for that statement.

    As to the NYT article, I’m sure comforted that they didn’t miss a mother-blaming opportunity. Because, you know, if a child is raped it’s the mother fault because she allowed her out of the house alone. How about extending this lovely idea to the little girl who was almost killed for going to school in Afghanistan? Sure had her mother kept her home it wouldn’t have happened.

    As for the “the 11-year old was dressed as if she were twenty”, a post-puberal girl must often wear adult clothing because she no longer fits into child sizes – it happened to my daughter at 12.

    • http://feministing.com/members/bree319/ Bree Herndon

      This is exactly why I chose NOT to become a lawyer. I took the LSATs and was on my way to applying when a very close friend, herself halfway through law school, told me bluntly I wasn’t cut out to do it. Her exact words were that being a lawyer would force me to make ethical compromises I would be unhappy making. Best advice I ever got, I’m now training to be a nurse-midwife.

    • http://feministing.com/members/stellarose/ Stella

      Really, though, if no one would defend an accused criminal in court in accordance with the legal duties impose of defense attorneys (i.e., defend your client zealously in accordance with the law), that criminal could not be put in jail. Sure, that particular lawyer could have resigned. But then someone else would need to step in. Not saying what this person said was right — but is it moral to put folks in jail without a fair trial? I think your issue is with the structure of our legal system, and not with the individual who took on a crappy job.