Gang Rape in Texas: An Open Letter to the NY Times

It’s the day after International Women’s Day. There are people who don’t understand why feminism still exists in this day and age, in this part of the world, and why you would choose to call yourself a feminist. Allow me to clarify using this shining example from the New York Times.

To: Mr. Arthur S. Brisbane <public@nytimes.com>
CC: <executive-editor@nytimes.com>

Mr. Arthur S. Brisbane
Public Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

Dear Mr. Brisbane,

I am writing to express my shock and dismay about an article by James C. McKinley Jr. published on the New York Times website on March 8th, 2011. The article is entitled “Gang Rape of Schoolgirl, and Arrests, shake Texas Town” with the current headline “Vicious Assault Shakes Texas Town.”

While the effects of any violence on a community as a whole are newsworthy and understandable, it is shocking that you would choose to publish an article that seems intent on justifying the actions of 18 male perpetrators who have been accused of raping an 11 year old girl.

“…in the neighborhood where the assault occurred, well-kept homes sit beside boarded-up houses and others with deteriorating facades. The abandoned trailer where the assault took place is full of trash and has a blue tarp hanging from the front. Inside there is a filthy sofa, a disconnected stove in the middle of the living room, a broken stereo and some forlorn Christmas decorations.”

Regardless of the economic and social impacts at play in this community, and regardless of the fact that the boys and men involved in the assault – along with other at-risk boys in the community – clearly require counseling and some kind of intervention to prevent further violence, that in no way justifies placing blame on the victim.

I am appalled that the author felt it necessary to report on hearsay and innuendo from local residents who sympathized with the boys, including that the child “dressed older than her age,” wore make-up and would “hang out with teenage boys at a playground” as if this behaviour somehow makes a violent gang rape a logical consequence.

“‘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.'”

I find it disturbing that you would choose to publish an article that questions the parenting abilities of the girl’s mother (“‘Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?’”) for allowing her daughter to be raped, while failing to inquire as to the whereabouts of the boys’ parents, especially as the article mentions that several of these young men already have criminal records.

It is clear that this community is intent on protecting the boys involved while blaming the victim for putting herself in a position to be raped, as is sadly the status quo in cases like these, such as the recent and widely-publicized incident involving the gang rape of a young girl that was distributed on facebook.

“‘It just sounds like she’s more embarrassed about it so she’s trying to turn it to make it sound like she’s a victim of something, rather than to say that she did something and that she knows that it was incredibly idiotic…'”

But as you are the Public Editor of the New York Times, I hold you to a higher standard. This “report” fuels and adds credibility to the dehumanizing sexism that continues to re-victimize this child, and contributes to a culture where every 2 minutes a woman is sexually assaulted in the US (I encourage you to read more about sexual assault at http://www.rainn.org).

It is ironic that you chose to run this article on March 8th, which was International Women’s Day – a celebration of how far women have come, and a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

I ask you to carefully consider how sexist attitudes shape supposedly objective reporting, and to employ better judgment when deciding what content will appear under the New York Times banner.

Thank you,
~ Katherine Toms
Toronto, ON

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2 comments

  1. Manu Mukerji · March 19, 2011

    Very well written open letter to the ed.

  2. Pingback: What If Steubenville Had Been a Murder Trial? | Katherine TOms

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