An absolutely heartbreaking story is unfolding in Arizona, as an 8-year-old Liberian girl has been shunned by her own parents after being the victim of a gang rape by four boys aged 9, 10, 13, and 14.
The boys, also refugees from Liberia, lured the girl into a shed by promising her some chewing gum. Once they had her in the shed, all four of them held her down for 15 minutes and raped her, and were later seen running from the scene of the crime after neighbors called the police due to hearing the girl's screams. The 14 year old has been charged as an adult with kidnapping and sexual assault; the rest of the boys have been charged as juveniles, with sexual assault and kidnapping charges against them, with the exception of the 9 year old, who is being charged with sexual assault alone.
But the story only gets worse: the 8 year old's parents have since shunned the girl, noting that they were ashamed of the girl for being viciously raped by her peers. According to police Sgt. Andy Hill: "The father told the caseworker and an officer in her presence that he didn't want her back. He said, 'Take her, I don't want her.'"
The girl is now in foster care, and the horrific treatment by her parents has created quite an outrage—even the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has released a statement: "I think that family is wrong. They should help that child who has been traumatized and they should make sure that they work with the U.S. law authorities to see what can be done about the other young boys who have committed this offense. Not only should they abide by the law, but they too need serious counseling because clearly they are doing something, something that is no longer acceptable in our society here."
Sirleaf, naturally, is trying to dispel the notion that this practice is perfectly acceptable in Liberia, and that the actions of the girl's parents, though horrifying in American society, are quite normal in their home country, where the social structure, as Monica Westin of World of Hope International tells the Associated Press, is built around the notion that the woman is always to blame: "[Women] always being blamed for everything," Westin says, "It's always the girl's fault. There's no gender equality."
Ali Keita of the Arizona Mandingo Association tells the Arizona Republic that while the boys grew up witnessing such horrific acts, "there is no excuse for the crime," and that he believes that the 8-year-old's parents are more embarrassed about their own lack of protection for their child, rather than "ashamed" of their daughter's victimization. Tony Weedor, founder of the CenterPoint International Foundation (and also a Liberian refugee) disagrees, noting that the little girl is a victim of a much larger cultural issue: "It's a shame-based culture, so the crime is not as important as protecting the family name and the name of the community. I just feel so sorry for this little girl. Some of these people will not care about the trauma she's going through - they're more concerned about the shame she brought on the family."
The parents, meanwhile, have not been charged with an crime, as, Bell notes, "They didn't abandon the child. They committed no crime. They just didn't support the child, which led to CPS coming over there." Meanwhile, the police say they've received "dozens of calls" about the girl from well-wishers seeking to help her in some way. "I've never seen a response like this to an incident, and it's just been very, very emotional from just about everybody," Sgt. Hill says, "It's almost overwhelming. I've had dozens of calls and e-mails. The department's had many calls. The investigative bureau has had them from people who just want to help by giving money and many people wanting to adopt the child." The father has reportedly said that he wants his daughter back, but a decision has not been made on the girl's future at this time. One can only hope that wherever she ends up, she is given the love and support she truly needs.
"Shame" Felt By Young Assault Victim's Family Decried [CNN]
Outpouring Grows For Girl, 8 [KPHO]
Arizona Girl Shunned After Alleged Rape [Montreal Gazette]
Outcry Over Disowned US Rape Girl [BBC]
Family Shuns Girl, 8, After Rape [MSNBC]
Oldest Boy In Assault Of Girl To Be Tried As An Adult [AZCentral]