Saturday, July 25, 2009

More bad news and good news about sexual assault

by Molly Borowitz

The bad news:

The BBC reports that in a Liberian immigrant community in Phoenix, Arizona, an 8-year-old girl was raped by four boys (aged 9, 10, 13, and 14). The boys promised the little girl some chewing gum to lure her into a nearby shed, and then pinned her down and forced themselves upon her in turn. The assault continued for almost 15 minutes until police officers in the area heard the girl screaming. The boys have all been charged with sexual assault and kidnapping, and the 14-year-old will be tried as an adult. However, the little girl’s parents have disowned their daughter: they’ve stated that they do not want her back because she has shamed them. Deprived of her home and family, the girl is now in custody of Arizona’s Child Protective Services. This incident follows hard upon the publication of South Africa's shocking rape statistics, underscoring the accuracy of those scholars’ assertions that the high rates of sexual assault in Africa reflect larger cultural trends, practices, and gender interactions (see my post from 18 June).

The good news:

Both the incident and especially the parents’ reaction to it have sparked a substantial outcry across the United States and severe censure from the Liberian president herself. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an outspoken advocate against rape, told CNN that she thinks “that the family is wrong. They should help that child who has been traumatized. They too need serious counseling because clearly they are doing something, something that is no longer acceptable in our society here.” In addition, Phoenix police sergeant Andy Hill told the press that people have been calling from all over the United States to offer donations for the child’s care or even to adopt her themselves. He asserts that “it has been unbelievably fantastic in terms of support for the child.” One hopes that this overwhelming response of concern and support reflects the prevailing societal attitude, one that will continue to take root in the United States and which - given recent reports of post-assault healing - may emerge in Africa with time.

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