The shoddy manner in which the New York Times and other media outlets covered the horrifying story of an 11-year-old girl allegedly being gang raped in Cleveland, Texas, has prompted a judge to issue a gag order that bars investigators, witnesses, and attorneys from speaking to the media. Not that that necessarily helps.
The Houston Chronicle reports that yesterday, in response to a request from the Liberty County District Attorney's office, Judge Mark Morefield approved the gag order to prevent "a large amount of prejudicial, misleading and inadmissible information" from leaking to the press. Judge Morefield said he issued the order in an effort to protect both the victim and the 18 defendants, and to make sure that the potential jury isn't tainted. The Chronicle protested the order, with the paper's lawyer claiming that the order, "could include anyone living in the entire town of Cleveland. This order is really gagging the public ... It's impossible to know who is included." While Judge Morefield said their argument "did not fall on deaf ears," as it stands no one connected to the case is allowed to talk to reporters or disseminate documents, data, and photographs from the case.
The move isn't a direct response to the Times, but the story gained more momentum on the national level after many were outraged by the paper's report, which the public editor said failed to show adequate "concern for the victim." The Chronicle's attorney may be right that "Important freedoms of free speech and access" have been violated by issuing a gag order, but the judge's decision is understandable. The victim and her mother have already been blamed for the crime in news reports, and the girl's name and picture were reportedly published on a website created by those connected to the case.
Plus, the idea that this is a story about what happens when girls dress inappropriately has become so widespread, that it's now being used a twisted justification for ridiculous laws. A tipster sent us a post from a St. Petersburg Times blog that discusses a Florida bill that would require schools to adopt a dress code that prohibits students from, "wearing clothing that exposes underwear or body parts in an indecent or vulgar manner." (Nevermind that pretty much every school already has a similar dress code, and this is a colossal waste of time.) Here's how the post ends:
One committee member, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) said she'd read recently a horrible story out of Texas about the rape of a young girl.
"There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," she said. "And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it's incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn't happen to our students."
No one commented on that line of reasoning.
If you need an example of the consequences of rampant victim blaming in the media, look no further. In one week we've gone from the Times implying (ostensibly by accident) that an 11-year-old was asking to be raped to an idiotic legislator pushing a pointless bill on the grounds that there would be fewer rapes if girls just stopped dressing like sluts. If the story of a child being brutally assaulted doesn't make people realize that we need to do something to make our culture less permissive of rape, it's hard to imagine what will.
Judge Approves Gag Order In Cleveland Sex Case [The Houston Chronicle]
Judge Clamps Lid On Anyone Tied To Cleveland Rape Case [The Houston Chronicle]
'Sagging Pants' Bill Passes House Committee [TampaBay.com]