A NY Times story about the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl by 18 men has sparked outrage – and not just at the horrific nature of the crime, but at the paper’s coverage. The NYT article needlessly wrote that the child dressed older than her 11 years, that she wore makeup, that she hung out with teenage boys at a playground. In the case of any rape, how a victim dresses and who she is friends with has no relevance to the crime committed against her.
Neighbors’ comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk. As for residents’ references to the accused having to ‘live with this for the rest of their lives,’ those are views we found in our reporting. They are not our reporter’s reactions, but the reactions of disbelief by townspeople over the news of a mass assault on a defenseless 11-year-old. We are very aware of and sensitive to the concerns that arise in reporting about sexual assault. This story is still developing and there is much to be learned about how something so horrific could have occurred.
If the NYT wants to learn “how something so horrific could have occurred,” they should focus their attention on the rapists, the ones responsible for the attack, not the victim. By placing emphasis on the behavior of the victim, and not the perpetrators, the NYT is contributing to the notion that a rape victim is somehow at fault. This is the sort of irresponsible coverage one expects from a small local paper desperate for page hits, not the Grey Lady.
At the time of this posting, an online petition demanding a public apology from the NYT has generated over 27,000 signatures. Click here to add yours.