My Sister’s Keeper: A “B” Side for Cleveland, TX

17 Mar

Trigger Alert: The following is a meditation on sexual violence.

This piece is in response to my previous post, “Won’t You Celebrate With Me?”, in which I discussed my experiences as a survivor of child abuse.

Last year, I wrote a piece in which I declared myself a survivor of child abuse. That fact is something that not a whole lot of people know about me. I know that much of my dissemblance stems from a deeply cultivated sense of privacy, but I would be lying if I said that, even as an adult who knows I did nothing wrong, that there was no shame in my silence.[i] When I think about what happened, I sometimes hear a voice saying things like, “It was so long ago, you need to get over it” or “Compared to what others have been through, you can’t even complain” or worse.  And while I know this voice is full of shit, it’s still there.

Last year, CF Ashon wrote something in the comments that continues to resonate with me: “we live in a world that makes it difficult, if not shameful, for people who have been victimized to speak…” This phrase has come back to me a lot in the recent days, especially as I think about the gruesome events that have happened in the small town of Cleveland, TX.

If you have not already heard, a young Latina sister—only eleven years old—was gang raped by eighteen black men —yes, you read that correctly. Eighteen men. A New York Times article with some skewed reporting focused on the community’s bullshit response to this sister’s assault.  For example, a community member lamented that the alleged perpetrators “will live with this the rest of their lives.”

Sometimes I wonder what planet I’m living on. A child is raped and folks are up in arms about how her eighteen attackers will feel for the rest of their lives?! Jesus, take the wheel.

Suffice it to say, there has been a lot of victim blaming: claims that the girl said she was of age (side eye), that she dressed “provocatively” (side eye), that her mother was negligent (side eye). All of this ballyhooing about blame is obfuscating the issue, which is: a girl was raped. Period. There’s no excuse. I don’t want to hear it.

Although much mainstream coverage of this incident has been fairly bootleg, thankfully we have folks like Akiba Solomon and Denene Millner who bring both sense and compassion to this discussion. Solomon indicts the rape culture that sanctions this behavior, asserting:

“In this framework, girls of color are the predators, the fast-asses, the hot-asses, the hooker-hos, the groupie bitches, the trick-ass bitches, the bust-it-babies and the lil’ freaks who are willing to let dudes “run a train” on them.”

Solomon is right. Perpetrators get let off the hook because folks are quick to want to uphold patriarchy by talking about brothers who act a damn fool as victims. And, let’s not get it twisted; we all know that black men, in particular, have had a history of being charged with rape, and other offenses, when their only crime has been being black and alive.  I know this. But folks, we have cell phone footage and so on. Indeed, folks in the community don’t even deny that sexual activity occurred, but rather, in Solomon’s words, they are calling the incident “a case of consensual group sex gone wrong.”

This brings me back to Ashon’s comment about shame and silence. While I am absolutely sick about this and hope that the girl’s attackers are brought to justice, at this moment, I’m just as concerned about how this girl is doing right now. Reports state that she has been placed in foster care in another town because of threats to her family. (Sigh).

My concern is how is she getting up and facing the day. I suspect that this sister is being bombarded with a host of angry voices—internal and external—voices that question her morality, her sexuality, her intelligence, and her self-worth.

I wonder, is she being supported? Is she being held if she wants to be held or left alone when she needs space? Is she able to cry it out, talk it out, scream it out, draw it out, or dance it out?

If I could talk to this sister, I’d have a lot to say. But, first, I would listen to her.  She has been talked about, conjectured about, and, I suspect, lied on, but I’m not sure how much listening is happening. I’m pretty sure that I will not be able to do this, but I hope that this sister can discover a supportive and affirming community that will listen to her needs and help her heal. And I hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that this sister from Cleveland, TX is not the only young girl out there dealing with sexual trauma from the hands of those closest to her. But there are things we can do besides shake our heads in collective disgust.

  1. We can continue to talk about it. I know the saying is that talk is cheap, but in the case of sexual violence, the silence is often overwhelming. Talking about these incidents, when possible, helps to illuminate the workings of rape culture.
  2. We need to listen. When folks admit to being survivors, we need to listen and not judge or shame them.
  3. We need to provide folks with information. Check out great resources like A Long Walk Home, No! The Rape Documentary, and Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, for starters.
  4. We need to help create counternarratives to the pervasive rape culture in our society that deems “running trains” and other sorts of sexual violence sites of masculine rites of passage.  This means radical deprogramming for men and women in our communities. I know this is no short order, but this is life or death kind of serious.
  5. We need to be accountable to one another. As in, yes, I am my sister’s keeper. When anyone experiences sex violence or violence of any kind, we should be outraged and ready for action. These are not hypothetical situations. These situations are happening every day.

This is just a short and by no means exhaustive list and there’s much work to be done.

So, let’s get to it.

[i] To be clear, I’m not making an equivocal statement about silence in all survivors of abuse and assault. I know that for some speaking out is neither desirable nor possible.


9 Responses to “My Sister’s Keeper: A “B” Side for Cleveland, TX”

  1. Anonymous March 17, 2011 at 1:26 PM #

    It is in my demise the things people go through when they are the “victim”. Being a “victim” of sexual assault at the age of 11 by a family member, at 32 I still relive those days. Its not what the individual did but the way the family took up for him, he had children older than me, a wife, and turned around to have twins the same age as my brother. Things of this nature haunts you for the rest of your life. I dont like being in the room with more than 2-3 men around, I have issues in relationships, I can never finish anything, many people say “You will get over it”, but do you really?? When your mother takes up for the individual and not the “victim”…Do you really “get over it”?

    Thank you for sharing this. I see I am still not along in my feelings and thoughts in this place we call a world.

  2. Z March 17, 2011 at 1:45 PM #

    a resource that helped me a lot, survivors telling their stories.

  3. akiba March 17, 2011 at 2:15 PM #

    brave and beautiful. you are supported and heard.

  4. Erin March 17, 2011 at 7:51 PM #

    What disgusts me is that out of these eighteen men, not ONE of them stopped to think, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea…” Absolutely disgusting and despicable. This poor girl has already been through enough, and now she’s having to be separated from her family and put into foster care – ripping her of her support system? So much for victim’s rights…

    • Trip March 19, 2011 at 4:53 AM #

      Hi Erin,

      well, why should they stop to think ? They obviously believed it was there “right” (even writing this makes me wanna puke). Presumably they thought she was “just a girl” and available to them.

      Men who are sensitive enough to stop and think would not be in a situation where they have to stop and think.


  5. Denene@MyBrownBaby March 18, 2011 at 8:21 AM #

    Thank you, sis, for this—for lifting your voice, telling your truth, and encouraging us to surround this child and so many other rape survivors like her with the love and support they deserve. She is us; we are her.

    I encourage you to stop by MyBrownBaby, where my husband and I have started an online letter campaign in support of this child. My prayer is that even if she doesn’t feel supported by the community in which she lives, she knows that there are those of us who DO care. Please stop by and leave a message of encouragement to her in the comments section.


  6. sheridf March 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM #

    @Denene (concerns about the love letter)

    I appreciate your post which forces people to view this issue with the understanding that we need to focus on the sexual assault that happened to this young girl child. However, I read the letter by Nick Chiles and I think it would be more appropriate if we were talking about a young woman maybe, but this is a love letter to an 11 year old. She has not even entered her teenage years and Chiles is talking about her ability to identify the right kind of black man. While I understand the need for black men to be able to distance themselves from this horrendous imagery by defining a real black man as the antithesis of these teenage boys and men. I wonder what she is supposed to take away from this letter regarding what the “real black men” intend to do about the “fake” ones actions. Also it seems like an additional burden to ask that she learn to distinguish between the “fake” ones and the “real” ones. How she sees black men is not the issue, how she sees herself is. I’m not quite sure what the love letter does to keep her at the center. I know that Men Stopping Violence is an Atlanta based organization that does this work nationally. Maybe there is an opportunity to plug this organization in connection with the letter to affirm that brothers have to get active in stopping violence against girls and women too.

    • Denene@MyBrownBaby March 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM #

      Hey there, Sheridf,

      I understand where you’re coming from—it is critical that this child learn to love herself. Absolutely. No one is suggesting otherwise. However, the letter you’re referencing was written as part of a campaign for folk to write letters of support to the child—letters of support from their hearts, that support their truths. The letter that I chose to kick off the campaign is one from my husband, Nick Chiles—a loving black man and the father of our two daughters, one of whom is 11. It is a “love” letter in the respect that “love” has many different manifestations—love of a parent, love of a sister, love of a friend and yes, love of a significant other. Nick’s letter was written from the perspective of a father who tells these things to his own 11-year-old daughter; I know this because I participate in that conversation. Our 11-year-old is learning EARLY what true love looks like, and that conversation includes all of the different manifestations—yes, even, and, on some days, especially, the love one receives and should expect from a significant other. As parents of girls, we both find this conversation to be critical as it is not uncommon for 11-year-olds to start thinking about the opposite sex (or their own gender—I won’t put labels on the sexual love one has for another) in ways that extend beyond friendship.

      I’ve invited my community of readers to leave “love” letters of support for the little girl on MyBrownBaby told from their truth. Nick wrote from his heart as the father of an 11-year-old girl. I’m not going to question his intent or his heart, just as I wouldn’t question your intent or heart if it came from your own personal truth/belief.

  7. Thank you for continuing to talk about this crime of gang rape of an 11-year-old little girl. I have written and posted 3 articles of my own on this topic on my blog. Like you, I believe that we have to keep talking about this little girl. She isn’t old enough to have her own voice so we need to do it for her. She needs our support and compassion. Like you, I wonder how she is doing separated from everyone that she knows. Right now she needs the support and love of her family and she was taken away from them. She needs a place to feel safe and to heal. I pray that she has a counselor that is trained in rape and child abuse treatment. This is not something that will just go away with time. I know. I am an incest survivor myself. My healing which has taken years and is ongoing is what I write about on my blog Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker. Again, thank you for writing about this little girl.

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