It's Always the Mother's Fault.
March 18, 2011
It is a story that hurt me down to my core.
Over the past few weeks, 18 boys and men have been arrested on charges of gang raping an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas—a brutal, animalistic, hours-long ordeal that no human, much less a child, should ever have to endure. This horrific crime was brought to the attention of police after cell phone videos and pictures of the Thanksgiving attacks went viral at the tween’s middle school and a student with a conscience turned them over to the principal.
As a woman who once was an 11-year-old girl, I can imagine the unspeakable physical pain, mental anguish and extreme emotional distress this child experienced and continues to go through as a result of the brutal violation of her young body. As the mom of an 11-year-old girl of my own, I’m afraid to imagine for even one second how the victim’s mother must be processing her daughter’s torture—the very thought of something like this happening to my… God, I can’t even.
My heart aches for daughter. For mother. For family.
But even as I sympathize with the victim, every ounce of my being hardens against some of the members of the tiny Texas town, who have continued to brutalize this child in word, action and deed. They’ve taken to suggesting that because this 11-year-old wore make-up, dressed provocatively, talked maturely on her FaceBook page and hung out at the local park sans adult supervision, her mother is… wait on it… an accomplice to her daughter’s rape. Seriously—I am not making this up. Witness this TV interview, in which Anita Ellis Hancock, the mother of one of the 19-year-old suspects, questions the victim’s mother:
FOX 26: What did you do? Did you talk to your son?
Hancock: Yes I did. Yes I did. I said, ‘Baby, I’m your momma. You can talk to me.’ (The victim) said she was 17 years old and that’s what he told me.
FOX 26: But Anita, a lot of people would say, ‘This is an 11 year old child. Even if she lied, she’s eleven.’
Hancock: I understand that. I understand that. I’m not defending him. I’m not defending her. I’m not defending no child because if it were my child, I would feel the same way. My point is, where was her mother?
FOX 26: If this was reversed. If your son wasn’t your son, but you were the mother of this 11 year old, what would you do? What would you say? What is justice?
Hancock: First of all, I would know where she was. That’s the justice. Not knowing where your baby is is not justice. I feel like she should be accounted for not knowing where your baby at.
Dead. Fish. Eyes.
Mind you, the sentiment expressed by Hancock has been repeated exhaustively in community meetings and news stories about the incident, even in a mea culpa from the New York Times after it was accused of victim blaming in its story about the crime.
And every time I read the quotes and listen to the clips and watch all the finger-pointing, I want to climb atop the Empire State Building and scream with a Morgan-Freeman-as-God-in-Evan-Almighty voice: STOP THE MOTHER BLAME!
I mean, my God: the girl was raped. By 18 different predators. While a line of more predators stood around gawking, conducting photo shoots and waiting for their turn. Those guys—depraved, inhuman, heartless—are the ones you point fingers at. Not the make-up. Not the mature outfits and grown folk talk. Not FaceBook. Not the victim. And most certainly not the woman who gave that child life.
But this is what we do as a society, isn’t it? No matter the crazy, obnoxious, abhorrent, sad, foul incident, statistic, study or circumstance involving our kids, we always seem to find a way to hitch the weight of the anger, the shame, the hurt and especially the blame on the mother. Kids are doing poorly in school and the educational system is for crap? It’s the mother’s fault—she spends way too much time working, not enough time reading to and doing homework with the kids. Children weigh too much and obesity is an epidemic? It’s the mother’s fault—she should have spent the 2.52 minutes she had between working, commuting, doing laundry, keeping the house clean, caring for Grandma, running the kids to soccer, volunteering at church and answering to everyone else’s beck and call to cook a healthy, five-course meal of organic vegetables and locally-grown meats. The government is running low on cash? Really, it has nothing to do with the fact that we’ve been in two wars for the past decade and Wall Street pickpocketed, like, the entire Earth. Blame mothers—those pesky critters looking for handouts at the welfare line and affordable healthcare for their babies and collective bargaining agreements that protect the few benefits they have at their low-wage jobs.
What’s worse is that we moms, poisoned with mom guilt and a seemingly insurmountable lack of respect and support we get for the epic task of raising kids, play right into this mindset with our petty “my way is better than your way” bickering we do on a minute-by-minute basis: Breastfeeding moms vs. formula feeding moms. Working moms vs. stay-at-home moms. Eco moms vs. WalMart moms. Tiger Moms vs. Teddy Bear Moms. Helicopter moms vs. Free Range moms. Black moms vs. White moms. The list goes on. The fights don’t stop, won’t stop.
But the mother blame must. Because no good comes from it. None of us wins when folk point fingers at us mothers and demand we commit a Harikari-styled suicide to atone for whatever failings society blames us for. God knows, this isn’t helping that mother in Cleveland, Texas, whom, forced to place her daughter in foster care and go into hiding with her husband and the rest of their family to escape the rain of threats being visited on them, woke up this morning unable to comfort her 11-year-old daughter, who, might I remind, is THE VICTIM OF A BRUTAL GANG RAPE. That mother will have to marinate forever on the mental image of her baby being penetrated by a gang of strangers so brazen with their crime, so cavalier with their lack of respect for humanity in general and the female gender in particular, that they’d pass along video and pictures of themselves raping a child.
Trust: If that mother has even a sliver of love for her flesh, for her blood, she’s already blamed herself a million times—already run through her mind all the things she could have, should have, wished she’d have done to spare her child.
The last thing she needs is for us to pile on the mother blame.
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Today on MyBrownBaby.com, my husband, Nick Chiles, wrote a letter to the gang rape victim: "Little Girl Loved: A Letter To the Cleveland, Texas Girl, From a Black Father Who Cares." I extend a special invitation to the mothers and fathers who’ve read this post to visit MyBrownBaby.com and leave empowering and loving messages to and for this child and tweet your support for her with #littlegirlloved. Let’s lift her spirit and let her know that if her town won’t support her and her family, we certainly will.