Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Family Shame Cause By Rape Victim's Decision


PHOENIX - Lured by promises of chewing gum then allegedly raped in a shed by four boys barely older than her, an 8-year-old Liberian girl is now in foster care and living with strangers after being shunned by her family.

The alleged sexual assault in Phoenix and reaction by her family have sparked an international outcry, reaching all the way to the president of Liberia, the home country of the girl's family and the four young suspects.

"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," Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told CNN. "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."
This particular case has gotten a lot of media attention and many of the people who have been appalled by the actions of these parents have made their objections known. This response shows how much power we collectively have to send a united message against rape and victim blaming when diverse groups of people all take a public stand.

I am glad that the president of Liberia spoke out, but her decision to do so highlights how often US politicians fail to follow her example. Her point about the victim's family needing counseling is important because otherwise good people can buy into dangerous beliefs. This happened in Arizona, but I haven't read any public statements from the governor or other elected officials in Arizona echoing Sirleaf's support for this 8-year-old girl and echoing her commitment to reduce sexual violence and victim blaming.

The problem for me in this widespread reaction is that this scope of reaction is so rare when the reality of rape and victim blaming and family failure related to sexual violence are not rare at all.

Another rape case which happened in Illinios which ended in a life sentence for Gregory Simpson isn't making the national news even though a family member of 2 young sisters (in kindergarten and third grade when sexually assaulted) didn't report him. It would be easy to vilify this family member but many adults don't have a clue about what to do and so they do nothing.

From CBS 2 Chicago:
One of the girls first reported the allegations to adult family members who failed to take action. However, a DVD program implemented by the district brought this case to the attention of authorities in May. The program is called, "Think Before You Click: Playing It Safe Online," and it focuses on Internet safety, including a segment dealing with on-line predators. It was first presented to students in fourth grade on up in May 2008.

After viewing the DVD, one of the victims confided to her friend about what Simpson had done. The friend told her teacher of the conversation. The teacher informed school administrators, who reported the allegations to the Joliet Police Department for investigation.
I don't know why this family member failed these girls, but the bottom line is that this type of failure is common.

I wonder how many of the people who have spoken up about the Arizona case only reject victim blaming and secondary harm done by a victim's family because of the age of this gang rape victim. What if instead of 8 she were 15? If a father told investigators that he didn't want his 15-year-old daughter anymore would his reaction be reason to call in child services or would it be dismissed as shock or dismissed as evidence that the 15-year-old rape victim had done something prior to this rape to deserve this reaction?

From later in this story:

Ben Haines, who lives across the street from the building, said he was disturbed that the 8-year-old girl's parents supposedly blamed the assault on her. "That just sounds so wrong. She's barely old enough to know about that," Haines said.
This response highlights what concerns me. Victim blaming can sound right to many people once the victim is perceived as "old enough to know about that."

What if an 18-year-old gang rape victim wasn't allowed to return home because she had willingly and innocently followed 4 men who then raped her? Would all those who condemn this father reject this same behavior? Or would they start making excuses?

Too often people who would condemn this father respond to a rape where an older victim trusted someone prior to the rape by lecturing the rape victim on proper behavior.

Many people are linking the parents attitudes to being recent immigrants from Liberia, but many non-immigrants who are raped as children are not believed when they disclose to their parents or they too are blamed by their parents and are viewed as bringing shame to their families. These parents might not be so open about their attitudes in interviews with the police as this father was because they know that being completely honest could result in a backlash.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:14 AM   1 comments links to this post


At July 29, 2009 6:03 PM, OpenID vagabondsaint said...

I have known numerous rape victims in my life, most of whom did not report their rapes and, in the cases of those that were raped in childhood, often found family members either unwilling to do anything or outright participating in the cover-up.

It happens more often than you'd think, and I don't know why. I theorize that it has to do with the truth being very fearsome, and the fear of public scorn when it becomes known that there is a rapist in the family or a fear that, as family members of a rape victims, the parents or relative failed to fulfill the familial obligation of protecting one's own. Instead of being a branded as a failure as a family member, it's easier to disown or ignore the victim or otherwise label her as being disgraceful somehow.

I would never turn my back on my daughter and I can't imagine any parent that would do so. . .my heart goes out to that poor girl and I am proud of President Sirleaf for taking the stand that our politicians are too cowardly to take.


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