When a Penis is a Weapon

A New York Times story about 18 teenagers and men raping an 11-year-old girl is generating a lot of repercussion for the Times because of the way the story was written. What seems to be missing in the understanding of the reporter and the paper’s editors is that when a penis is used for violence, it is no different from a gun or a knife or a club. In rape, the penis is a weapon.

Would the newspaper have written the story in the same way if the 11-year-old child were stabbed or clubbed by 18 men? I think not. There is terribly, distressingly something associated with the act of sex that in the eyes of some lets the crime of rape off with much less cry for punishment, much less sympathy for the victim. It is impossible to even imagine the incredible deep physical and psychological trauma these teenagers and young men inflicted one by one — each one responsible for his own indecent, illegal act — upon this helpless child. An affidavit said the rapists threatened the child with a beating if she did not comply.

As others have pointed out here and here, and, I’m sure, elsewhere, there are significant problems with the NYT story.

There is a quote from a woman who knows several of the males charged in the crime who remarked “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” There is no quote expressing outrage and sorrow for the child who was raped, first in a house, then in a filthy abandoned trailer.

Then there was this paragraph:

“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.”

Excuse me? Is this blame the victim, the child who was playing dress-up? Where are the quotes from anyone who knew the little girl and could express who she really was? Who could express the anguish they felt for what happened to her?

A science story has recently been making the rounds about the history of the penis: male chimpanzees have knobby spines on their penis that humans lost during evolution. Makes me wish that females had retractable spines in their vaginas that were more like needles than knobs and, when being attacked, the female could release her spines and sink them into the intruding penis. If the little girl who was gang raped could have done that, maybe the 17 teenagers and men who heard the screams of the first would have tucked their collapsing penises into their pants and run for the woods.

Guest Blogger Profile: MARY KNUDSON is the co-author of “Living Well with Heart Failure, the Misnamed, Misunderstood Condition”, a health blogger at HeartSense Blog, teaches writing at Johns Hopkins, loves books, baseball, and critters. She can be found on Twitter as @maryknudson

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in Guest Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to When a Penis is a Weapon

  1. Steve says:

    Look, I am as outraged by this gang rape as anyone, but take a breath.

    The Times article was not biased against this girl, the word “Vicious” was right there in the headline. The reporter obviously went around town and talked to people, and he got the kind of quotes that are in the story.

    The reason why you probably are not hearing from voices defending the girl — but heard plenty defending the boys — is not because of reportorial bias but because of the facts of the case which the NY Times, with I am sure praiseworthy motives, chose to suppress.

    Bluntly, the scene of the crime is a mostly black neighborhood. The alleged perpetrators are all black. The victim is a Latina, and no longer lives in the school district. In other words, I would bet you that you do not have significant Latino population in this town to defend the girl as such. Otherwise, I would expect the reporter would have quoted same. But the converse is also true. Since the town is overwhelmingly black, the alleged perpetrators are all black, and the victim is NOT black, what we seem to here is some collective rationalization going on. In short, there is a racial dynamic to this case that everyone chooses to ignore. I don’t want to draw undue attention to it, but it is there, and that probably more than anything else explains why we didn’t get more quotes defending the young girl.

  2. Serolf Divad says:

    Odd, I got a very different sense from reading the story. When I read it I didn’t feel anger at the reporter. Rather, I was appalled by the attitudes of the people he interviewed. I wonder if this isn’t a case of shotting the messenger?

  3. Sara W says:

    I think this is blatant misreading of the article. The quote that these young men will have to live with this for the rest of their lives reads to me as though this is an incredibly shameful act–an act of violence–that these young people are never going to escape. I don’t think it’s painting the perpetrators as victims, I think the quote captures how appalled the community is. I don’t see any of the quotes as a defense of the boys, only a sickened response to how far-reaching this violence was. 18 assailants! That’s potentially 18 families in a small town. That’s a lot of shame for a small community. I bet you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who knows the family of one of the rapists and I bet everyone is wondering why and what separates those who commit atrocities from those who don’t.

    As for the quotes about the mother, I think this is a fair criticism/comment. Though it rankles that there’s no mention of the father’s duty (providing the girl has one). I’m a mother and as a mother I have a duty to be the best guardian I can for my child. That means that I will do everything within my means to protect her–which includes monitoring her wardrobe and hopefully keep her from dressing in a way that will sexualize her. This poor little girl was only doing what comes naturally to any of us–she was exploring her sexuality by wearing certain clothes and makeup and hanging out with boys who were older. Kids can be sneaky, but surely the mother must have been aware of what her daughter was wearing on a daily basis. And no, I don’t want my comment to be interpreted as: the girl got what was coming by dressing provocatively. I think it’s pretty clear that’s not my stance. Someone should have been protecting this girl.

  4. Mary, you are spot on. Rape is an act of violence, not an act of sex. That girl could have been walking around in a thong and pasties and it wouldn’t matter: rape is violence, *not* sex, and it has little to do with the act of sex. It’s what these men used in lieu of other items, as you point out, that might normally be clearly recognized as weapons–knives, guns, etc. Substitute an assault of this girl by 18 men wielding baseball bats, read that graf about how she dressed and whom she visited, and tell me what relevance those details would have whatsoever to an act of violence like that. Rape is no different. Just because a penis is involved doesn’t make it sexual any more than stabbing someone in the eye with a pen makes it literary.

  5. Mary Knudson says:

    When I wrote this I had no idea what race or ethnic background anyone was who was involved. It doesn’t matter. You say, Steve, that “I would bet you that you do not have significant Latino population in this town to defend the girl as such” and you suggest that townspeople are largely of the same race as you say the boys and men who were charged with the rape crimes are and there may be “some collective rationalization going on.”

    If it takes people of your own race or ethnicity to defend you when you have been harmed or say that you should be punished for attacking a child, how can our villages and cities and nation and the world ever come together as one? This attitude is very hurtful. Justice should indeed be colorblind. I don’t believe that the people of this town will fall in line to support members of their own race regardless of the facts of this very disturbing case.

    With regard to the responsibility of this little girl’s mother, yes, questions can certainly be raised as to where the mother and father were and why they didn’t know where their child was and whom she was with. Her parents were not protecting her. But I would raise the same question about the parents of the teenagers charged with raping her. Why didn’t their parents know where they were and who they were hanging out with and what they were doing? What values were they taught?

    This case is not about race or ethnicity. And when it gets right down to what took place, it is not about parents. Each teenager or man who attacked this child was responsible at that moment for his own act.

    Emily, your last sentence is so true. Well put!


  6. Sara W says:

    I’m still not seeing the blaming of the victim. You could easily substitute a stabbing and have the same quotes. Nor am I seeing any form of collective rationalization. I see a community that is reeling from an incomprehensible act of violence. Reading it otherwise seems to be inserting an agenda. What about this article infers that the community, parents, and relations of these men (not boys, from the article it sounds like most were 18+) aren’t sickened by this? I think the quote “these boys will have to live with this for the rest of their lives,” speaks to that.

    Damn straight that the girl’s parents have a role in this. They provide money for the girl’s clothing, they dress her, we can hope that they see her in the mornings and the evenings. She’s eleven years old, they should know where their daughter is, how she’s dressing, and who she’s with. You’re morally/socially “correct” in saying that the victim should be able to walk around in pasties and a thong without being harmed, but that’s not the reality. These men were criminal. You take someone who is sexualized, vulnerable, wanting attention, and leave her to the repeated attentions of men with criminal records? Only a Pollyanna is going to believe that scenario will end in less than tragedy. And for that I blame the parents.

  7. Sara W says:

    In response to the questions of why the article didn’t contain quotes about the little girl from her friends–it’s probably safe to assume that this is in an effort to protect the girl’s identity. She’s not dead. She’s alive, has a future, and is going to need all the support and protection she can get.

  8. Andrew says:

    It is a lurid story, no doubt. And I agree the article is a revealing document about our attitudes with respect to rape, which are complex and often misguided. However, even as you say that attacks with a penis are no different from those with a knife or other weapon, I wonder if you would call those crimes “indecent” as you did in this case?

    The indecency of such a crime might be part of what leads to a situation in which the reporter can’t get the interviews he would have wanted.

    He points out 1) that it was not disclosed who the girl or her mother are in the affadavit that most of the story is based on (because their identities need to be protected in ways you wouldn’t have to worry about with ordinary crimes) and 2) that only a “handful” of neighbors were willing to comment — and these neighbors quite possibly agreed with the quote given.

    There is stuff here that is bad that is not the fault of the reporter. It may be that the reporter should have done more to correct for the problems.

  9. Aaron says:

    “Penis as a weapon” may make for nice rhetoric, and in some cases, it may even be a useful analogy. But the idea that this gang rape is equivalent to a group beating is ridiculous.

    Why? Because raping someone is a hell of a lot worse than stabbing or clubbing someone. Sexual assault is worse than regular assault, that’s why when it happens, we add the adjective “sexual” to it. You don’t hear about facial assaults or abdominal assaults.

    Further, the notion that rape or sexual violence in general is nothing more than an alternate avenue for standard violent tendencies diminishes the acts, it doesn’t add to them. It diminishes our ability to think and react rationally to the phenomena.

    Does violence play a role in rape? Most assuredly. Is rape the same as violence? Most assuredly not. Rape is the use of violence (or threat thereof) to get sex. To act as if all rape is nothing more than violence, and that sexual desire never enters into the equation is idiotic. Most people don’t get aroused when they’re violent, and when you’re talking about penises at least, they don’t work very well (whether for raping or for consensual relations) when their owners are not aroused.

    For some especially troubled degenerates, the fact that they are using violence may add to their arousal, or the fact that the act is degrading to the victim may motivate them. Perhaps some people really are wired such that violence and arousal are the same. But most of time, I suspect rapists are operating under a delusion that what they are doing to their victims is either desired (‘they are really enjoying it’), deserved (‘they were asking for it’), or they are sociopaths for whom the victim’s situation isn’t considered at all, and are only concerned with satiating their own lust.

    As for this story in particular, I think it’s certainly part of the story how some residents in the area would like to turn this abomination onto the 11-year old victim or her parents. The fact that those quotes are abhorrent doesn’t mean they’re not newsworthy; in fact it makes them moreso. Printing the quotes does not mean the reporters sympathize with them.

  10. Steve says:

    Mary, with all due respect, your claim that race is not an issue in this case is just absurd. You really ought to read the media from Houston, which is what I clicked on when I first heard of the case.

    I am not saying that race had anything to do with the rapes as such. I am saying that because the victim was of one group (“race” or whatever) and the alleged perps are all of another group (or “race” or whatever) which was heavily dominant in the area where the rapes actually took place, you have an important clue for the quotes in the New York Times article. That is all.

    The fact that the perps were group A and the vic Group B would work regardless of the groups involved. If you know history, or really, just the history of crime, you will notice that this kind of circling the wagons happens whenever one “group” is charged with a crime against another “group.” I contend that that is the root cause for these outrageous/ridiculous rationalizations that are being offered.

    There are now white skinheads running around town preaching violence against blacks. There have been two meetings of local African Americans: at the first, they collectively blamed the girl, at the second — interrupted by a death threat — the leader of a local Black Panther party questioned why only young black men had been arrested so far, suggested that racism was the cause, and furthermore implied that the vic had been involved with others, not among those yet arrested.

    So there is, frankly, quite obviously a racial dynamic at work in this case, and if you don’t want to recognize it because you want to not see it, that’s fine with me, but then that doesn’t really give you, or the others who are being so harshly critical of the times, a whole lot of room to maneuver. All the best!

  11. Mary Knudson says:

    43,735 people have signed a petition started by Shelby Knox at Change.org http://bit.ly/f6DB6Z that says “Tell the New York Times to Apologize for Blaming a Child for Her Gang Rape” in response to the newspaper’s March 8 article about the rapes.