Defender News Services

The alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old Hispanic girl by a group of Black suspects has put an unwanted spotlight on Cleveland, a Texas town 40 miles northeast of Houston.

Eighteen men and teens ages 14 to 27 have been arrested in the case, including two high school athletes, adults with criminal records and the son of a school board member. The incident took place over the Thanksgiving holiday, and the first suspects were arrested in February.

The case has prompted questions about the issue of race, whether the sexual act was “consensual” and whether the suspects involved knew the girl was only 11. In recent days, a Black Houston activist, a Hispanic women’s group and a national publication have become part of the discussion.

The escalating publicity prompted a Liberty County judge to issue a gag order at the request of prosecutors. Under the order, lawyers, police officers, witnesses and others involved in the case cannot talk about it. The gag order is designed to keep potential jurors from hearing inadmissible evidence when the case goes to trial.

The case took on added racial overtones when activist Quanell X held a town hall meeting in Cleveland and said that something was “wrong” with the investigation.

Though some details remain unclear, a teacher was reportedly told about the incident, a video of which circulated around the school district. The 11-year-old girl was interviewed and the matter was then turned over to police.

“It was not the young girl that yelled rape,” Quanell X said. “Stop right there. Something’s wrong, brothers and sisters.”

The activist agreed with some Cleveland residents who questioned the whereabouts of the child’s parents during the incident. Some residents also claimed that the child intentionally dressed older than her age.

An affidavit filed for a search warrant said that the assault started after the 11-year-old accepted an invitation for a ride from a 19-year-old.

According to the affidavit, she was taken to a house, ordered to disrobe and told she would be beaten if she did not have sex with several men. When a relative of one of the suspects arrived home, the group fled out a window and continued the assault at an abandoned mobile home.

The number of men participating in the act grew, and the 11-year-old said that one or more suspects recorded the assault.

“Where was her mother?” Quanell X asked. “Where was her father? Where was her family?”

Two days after the predominantly Black town hall meeting, Mujeres Unidas (Women United) held a news conference in support of the girl.

“This was an 11-year-old child and no matter what she did, did not do, how she dressed, how she talked, how she acted, it does not matter,” said Linda Morales. “This was a brutal and savage rape.”

Morales also responded to those who wondered about the child’s parents.

“At that town hall meeting, it was asked where the parents of the young girl were,” she said. “We can easily and stupidly say where were the parents of the accused. We caution those who are blaming the victim that it will only serve to hurt our communities.”

An article by the New York Times on the “firestorm” in the Cleveland community has come under fire by several women’s websites. The article was called slanted and ill-conceived, and criticized for blaming the 11-year-old for the incident.

The Times responded to a “wave of complaints” by issuing a statement that said: “Nothing in our story was in any way intended to imply that the victim was to blame. Neighbors’ comments about the girl, which we reported in the story, seemed to reflect concern about what they saw as a lack of supervision that may have left her at risk.”

As for the suspects, those tried as adults could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted of sexual abuse of a child, which is a first-degree felony in Texas. The 11-year-old girl has changed schools and has been placed in a foster home.