This is a picture of my son on his eleventh birthday. He and his sister (and his cousin, not pictured) wore orange so we could identify them in the chaos that is the amusement park inside the Mall of America.
While I of course see my 11-year-old as an unusually beautiful specimen, he is actually pretty typical of the species. While he is marketed to as a "tween," suggesting that he is on the brink of pubescence, he's more child than teen, and nowhere near adult. For his birthday he requested and received a set of emo-skate-punk fashions from the Tony Hawk line at Kohl's, but wearing these did not suddenly transform him into a cast member of Jackass. One look at the roundness of his face tells you that this 11-year-old is absolutely, unmistakably a child.
As a longtime feminist activist, I know about slut-shaming and victim-blaming. But as a mother of an 11-year-old I slumped over and wept when I heard about the now infamous coverage of the 11-year-old Texas gang rape victim in the New York Times.
Residents in the neighborhood....said [the victim] dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys on the playground, some said. "Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?" said Ms. Harrison....
Yes, James C. McKinley Jr. can hide behind the fact that the statements were made by people in the community itself, but he didn't bother to include a counterpoint from a sexual assault counselor, who may have reminded McKinley that a victim's clothing is irrelevant to the horrific crime perpetrated against her. And the child's mother is not responsible for the behavior of 18 rapists. Interestingly, McKinley placed this quote near the beginning of the story:
"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."
McKinley doesn't provide a voice that muses what the 11-year-old VICTIM will have to live with for the rest of her life. Why? I'm a writer, not a journalist, but even I know that it would only take one phone call to a domestic violence shelter and/or sexual assault hotline to find someone willing to speak up for this 11-year-old child. Hell, McKinley could go to a large mall and find a mother of an 11-year-old willing to go on record. This is what she'd probably say:
My heart is breaking for that little girl. I hope that she gets the support she needs to recover from this terrible crime and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. By "justice" I mean significant jail time and education about rape and its effect on survivors and communities.
Then she'd hold her own 11-year-old and cry.