Rape: A Feminist Issue
Some of the reporting on the subject has received criticism. In particular, a New York Times article seems to empathize more with the accused rapists, rather than the victim. For example, the article article reports that people in the city are worried about the young men:
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?The article does not report any statements of concern for the health of the young victim. Furthermore, the article contains quotations from residents of Cleveland that blame the victim and her mother from the alleged crime:
“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.For a long time, feminist legal theorists have criticized US rape law. Traditionally, the law permitted defense attorneys to rebut rape allegations by probing into the sexual background of the women. Under prevailing gender constructs, promiscuous women consent to sex and cannot be raped. Rape allegations made by women who are alluring -- either in terms of fashion or makeup -- are also suspicious. Accordingly, the gender-based criticism of the New York Times article is appropriate.
“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?”
Rape: A Racial Issue
Rape, however, is also an issue of race and racism. Although rape victims are generally disbelieved, race provides important context to this subject. Historically, any black man accused of raping a white woman -- or even flirting with a white woman -- was considered guilty and subject to death -- either "lawfully" or by lynch mob. By contrast, women of color were deemed to consent to sex with any man. They were by law in some states lawfully available for intercourse with impunity.
An examination of death penalty statistics bolsters this observation regarding the relevance of race to rape. Before the Supreme Court invalidated the death penalty for rape in 1977 (in Coker v. Georgia), executions for rape followed a dramatic racial pattern. Over 90% of the men executed for rape were black, and 100% of the victim in these cases were white -- even though most rapes were (and still are) intraracial.
By only focusing attention upon the smaller subset of rapes that involved black defendants and white victims, the larger body of white male rapes of white women went unpunished or at least subject to far less scrutiny. Racism, therefore, helped to reinforce the vulnerability of all women to rape.
Race of the Cleveland, Texas Victim
Although the news media has not revealed the race of the young girl in Cleveland, Texas, it highly likely that she is black. First, rape is primarily intraracial; because most (if not all) of the accused assailants are black, it is likely that the victim is as well.
Furthermore, news of the alleged rape has only become a national story several months after it occurred. If 18 black men were accused of raping a white girl, the story would have probably developed into a national issue months ago.
Finally, the lack of concern for the victim in the New York Times article and in other media reports certainly suggests that the victim is black. The reporting simply follows the historical practice of devaluing black crime victims -- especially victims of rape.
If the victim is in fact white, then the circumstances will have deviated from normal practice. Regardless, it is important for critics to remember that rape is both an issue of gender and race.
The victim could easily be a Latina as well -- with similar results as a black victim.
Furthermore, although this case is receiving late attention, there have been several gang rapes with black and/or disabled victims in recent years. These cases did not receive widespread national headlines.
Milwaukee, 15 males rape 11-year-old black girl in 2006
Chicago, numerous men rape black teen with developmental disabilities in 2010
Atlanta, 20 arrested for raping disabled teen outside of Atlanta in 2000.
Update II: ABC News reports that the victim is Latina. Before this news emerged, I had already amended the article to reflect that if the victim were Latina or black, the results would probably look the same. My point about race holds: the victim was not white.