The Atrocious Sexual Assault Reporting of the NYTimes

The New York Times recently published a piece by James C. McKinley about the brutal gang rape of an 11-year old girl. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The police investigation began shortly after Thanksgiving, when an elementary school student alerted a teacher to a lurid cellphone video that included one of her classmates. The video led the police to an abandoned trailer, more evidence and, eventually, to a roundup over the last month of 18 young men and teenage boys on charges of participating in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in the abandoned trailer home, the authorities said…

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. “Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?” said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record. “How can you have an 11-year-old child missing down in the Quarters?”

Even on its face, the implication that the victim might have somehow been responsible for her own assault seems abhorrent in such a story (conveniently, the people explaining her proclivities are relegated to the anonymous “some”).

Emily Long explains why she thinks this article is a pretty poor piece of reporting:

And here we have another variation on blaming the victim, which is blaming the victim’s parents. For one thing, the girl’s mother did not grant permission for a child to be viciously assaulted. We have no background on what was going on in the victim’s private life (which is as it should be; she and her family deserve anonymity). For all we know, the girl was no more supervised at home than she was in the Quarters, and the reasons for that could be any number of possibilities. Within the article, that makes for two quotes working against the victim, and none against the accused beyond statements about how devastated the community is by the attack as a whole.

Mary Elizabeth Williams chimes in with a thoughtful, well-written analysis (as usual):

The question, however, is not what that girl or her mother did to bring this on. And it’s sloppy journalism for a reporter to run a story that casts a victim and her mother as somehow responsible for an attack, especially without including a single quote from anyone in town with a more sympathetic view of the family. That’s far from the balanced journalism the Times aspires to. The girl’s mother, identified only as Maria, told the New York Daily news this week that the family has received several angry phone calls, and that the child has been moved to foster care for her protection. “These guys knew she was in middle school,” she said. “You could tell whenever you talked to her. She still loves stuffed teddy bears.” Where’s that quote in the Times story?

It’s a painful thing to contemplate that a girl’s circumstances may have made her more vulnerable to attack. But being vulnerable does not put the burden of what happens on the victim. No 11-year-old deserves a word of questioning or doubt on that front. No one who has ever been sexually assaulted, and certainly none who has ever been sexually assaulted in such a sustained and inhumane way, deserves to have her makeup or clothing brought into the conversation, regardless of her age. And how demoralizing, how outrageous, how sickening that once again, when a female is brutally and inhumanely attacked, the issue of what her multiple assailants apparently did somehow pales next to the curiosity over what she must have done to provoke it.

In Mississippi, Half of the People with HIV Aren’t Receiving Treatment

An upsetting report from Human Rights Watch via @jimmurphysf:

The 59-page report, “Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi,” documents the harmful impact of Mississippi’s policies on state residents, including people living with HIV and those at high risk of contracting it. Mississippi refuses to provide complete, accurate information about HIV prevention to students and threatens criminal penalties for failing to disclose one’s HIV status to sexual partners. At the same time, Mississippi provides little or no funding for HIV prevention, housing, transportation, or prescription drug programs for people living with HIV, and the state fails to take full advantage of federal subsidies to bolster these programs. In Mississippi, half of people testing positive for the virus are not receiving treatment, a rate comparable to that in Botswana, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Pornography Will Ruin Your Teaching Career

The sad story of Tera Myers, who was unable to escape her past involvement in pornography:

A Parkway North High School science teacher has been placed on administrative leave and will not return to her job after disclosing she had worked in pornographic films before becoming a teacher, according to school district officials. The teacher, Tera Myers, requested the leave Friday after a student approached her about her past, according to the district. Previously, Myers had been suspended from a Kentucky school district for similar reasons.

The Real-Life Story of Scumbag Steve (AKA Blake Boston)

You may not have even known that Scumbag Steve was a meme, but Blake Boston certainly does; it’s his photo that has appeared on countless internet message boards, bearing occasionally amusing messages about what a douchebag he is.

Now Know Your Meme has an interview with Blake Boston in which he describes the real-life horrors of being an internet meme.

Q: On the down side of internet fame, I hear you’ve been getting harassed by Anonymous pranksters left and right. How’s that going? I imagine you’re in a glass case of emotions right now.

A: Sucks man. I guess people can’t separate the meme from the real me in some cases. Like people got my name, my phone, my Facebook, started callin’. Callin’ me all kind of racist shit, callin’ my girl and my family all hours of the night. Some asshole put up an ultrasound picture of my unborn kid and wished it would die. How fucked is that? My girl cried all night. She felt molested by that. Lot of racist shit being said, lot of haters. But truth is man, even with d-bags like that, I have it good really cuz I’ve got my family and my friends who know me. And no one can break that.

The Facebook Profile That Stole a Piece of Her Soul

Susan Arnout Smith writes compellingly on how some very, very bad people created a fake Facebook profile for her and destroyed her will:

I pressed the link. There are moments that are burned into the heart. I saw my face. It was a photo taken off one of my websites. I saw my name. The persona they had created, using my name, my face, was pornographic, trolling for sex. I pay good money. I sat stunned. There had to be a way of connecting to a real person, somebody who could help me get this removed.

But the saddest part is the moral of the story, which is that the same exact thing can happen to any one of us, and for no reason at all.

The Psychological Perils of Solitary Confinement

I had a chance to catch up on a ton of articles while I was on the plane to/from Sundance (see all /Film’s coverage of Sundance here), so some of my postings over the next week or two may be a bit older than usual.

In any case, here’s Atul Gawande’s examination of whether or not solitary confinement is torture. The short answer to that question: probably yes.

Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, received rare permission to study a hundred randomly selected inmates at California’s Pelican Bay supermax, and noted a number of phenomena. First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners “begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind—to organize their own lives around activity and purpose,” he writes. “Chronic apathy, lethargy, depression, and despair often result. . . . In extreme cases, prisoners may literally stop behaving,” becoming essentially catatonic.

Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulties with “irrational anger,” compared with just three per cent of the general population. Haney attributed this to the extreme restriction, the totality of control, and the extended absence of any opportunity for happiness or joy. Many prisoners in solitary become consumed with revenge fantasies.

There are solutions to this. Take the British approach, for example:

The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills…The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in “extreme custody” than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.

Of course, the U.S. would never allow such vast sweeping reforms. Our toxic political system paradoxically requires all politicians to be tough on criminals without actually examining the root causes of criminality and negative behavior in prisons. It’s a can’t-miss recipe to continue upon the horrible path we’re on.