The September issue of GQ has a piece, not online, about the repeated gang-rape of an eleven-year-old child in Cleveland, Texas. And whereas previous coverage appalled observers for implicit victim-blaming, Kathy Dobie's story has the sensitivity (and the time and space) the tragedy deserves, though we still learn much more about the victim and her family than the perpetrators.
There is plenty of new, upsetting material here, including details about the assault I prefer not to transcribe. Dobie spent time with the family of the girl (referred to here by her court pseudonym, Regina) and spoke to her parents and siblings, though apparently not the victim herself.
Regina is described as "a quick learner, a chameleon," and as "deeply loyal": "You'd practically have to kill her to lose her love." (Dobie's words). Her mother, chronically ill with untreated tumors, calls her "my wild child," and says, "That girl could live on mirrors. That girl could live taking pictures of herself. She wants to be a model."
Maria, Dobie writes, is indulgent to her youngest daughter, because she herself was raised in a strict, sometimes abusive family; later, Maria tells her about her stepfather sexually abusing her throughout her entire childhood, starting at age five.
Dobie describes a sad, strange Facebook relationship Regina had with a 20-year-old man who backed off when he found out she was actually eleven, but who didn't mind ending it by saying, among other things, "fukk u." Regina was drawn to a neighborhood known, among other names, as the Check, for its "energy, the intricately woven web of relationships." It's implied that in spending so much time there, she sought excitement, affirmation, and to break from her neglectful parents:
"According to her sister Elisa, 'Regina's actually ashamed to be Mexican.' [Her sister] Anna adds, 'Yeah, she thinks she's black.' Their father, Juan, dislikes black men — 'They're lazy and I don't know why they exist,' he says — so Regina told him she was going to marry one.'"
It was in that neighborhood that she was repeatedly raped, after being told that "if she refused, [an older boy] would have some girls beat her up." A total of eight men and boys showed up to rape her that November day that was recorded for all the school to eventually see. There were, in all, four separate gang-rapes.
After the November gang rape, "Regina tried to act as if nothing happened. Her exuberance had always been, in part, a ladder to climb up, up, up — far above every bad feeling and ugly situation that was beyond her capacity to handle." A local woman describes seeing Regina, a few days later, get knocked down by some men who come to pick her up and despite her attempted intervention, go with them anyway.
Since the arrests, triggered by the distribution of the rape video, her parents have been charged with neglect, the father has abandoned the family, and Regina is in foster care perhaps indefinitely.
The piece also recounts some familiar victim-blaming from town residents and outsiders alike, this time framed with both criticism and compassion. A thirteen-year-old girl who describes Regina as "like my best friend" writes "she ask for them to do that to her... i will never do that...she like a slut type of girl." A great-grandmother says of the boys, "A hard dick has no conscience."
Outsiders blame her too, including Black Panther leader Quanell X, who announces, "I did not come here this evening to jump on an 11-year-old child" and asks, "How is that child in that community experiencing so much sex with so many African-American men? Where was the mother?" He is handed a printout of Regina's Facebook page, in which she wears an "oversize" Hooters T-shirt. Dobie says,
That seemed to be enough to reassure the crowd that this was no ordinary 11-year-old girl. For some in the audience, though, it could've had the opposite effect, reminding them of all the posing they did when they were that age, the trying on of personae: wannabe gangstas, baby mamas. The headlong rush to grow up.
Dobie comes to this topic with some perspective; she wrote a well-reviewed memoir, The Only Girl In The Car, about being the "slut" as a middle-class teenager, and at fifteen, being bullied by her boyfriend into "having sex" (it sounds a lot like rape, but I haven't read the book) with his three friends, an incident for which she would be subsequently tormented at school. Her road to that car was paved with curiosity and wanting to live an adventurous life like a boys, according to a review in Salon:
It's not surprising, then, that Dobie found it so easy to be swept up in the desires of the "tribe," the "brotherhood" that she believed she had found among the boys of the teen center. As the only girl in the car, though, she was no longer a mere face in the crowd, but special, the one girl with the daring to act like a boy.
Maybe that's also why there is very little about the perpetrators in this piece. (Though it wouldn't be surprising if it was easier to talk to a victim's family members than men and boys with serious charges pending against them.) Even at this level of reporting and compassion, this is still ultimately a piece in which we understand how the victim could have been vulnerable. This in itself doesn't seem so difficult to understand, irrespective of parental neglect or circumstances; all victim-blaming seems like rationalization to put space between yourself and the "kind of girl" that happens to.
There is this, about the November incident that was recorded and passed around: "A number of other guys walked away from the house... once they understood what was about to go down. No one called the law, though, or tried to get Regina home." One boy shouts, "Call my mom!" as he is arrested in the middle of a school baseball game.
But we remain without a a clue how her victimizers could do it, if this is even knowable. Though a men's magazine would be an interesting place to start figuring it out.