Eight-Year-Old Gang-Raped, Shunned by Family: CNN's First and Only Network On It
An eight-year-old girl, gang-raped by four young boys in Phoenix, then blamed for the rape by her family and shunned: how quickly and heavily will the media respond? Where is President Obama, who can comment on local police matters in Cambridge, Massachusetts? So far, Nexis shows CNN is the first and only network on this story, which should captivate Nancy Grace and Greta van Susteren for weeks, not to mention network morning shows. Here’s a summary from AP:
Authorities said Thursday that four boys ages 9 to 14 took turns raping an 8-year-old girl behind a shed for more than 10 minutes in what Phoenix police are calling one of the most horrific cases they've ever seen.
The outrage over the allegations intensified after police said the girl's parents criticized her after the attack and blamed her for bringing shame on the family.
"The father told the caseworker and an officer in her presence that he didn't want her back. He said, 'Take her, I don't want her,' " police Sgt. Andy Hill said.
...Phoenix investigators said the boys lured the girl to an empty shed July 16 under the pretense of offering her gum. The boys held the girl down while they took turns assaulting her, police said.
"She was brutally sexually assaulted for a period of about 10 to 15 minutes," Hill said.
Officers responding to an emergency call reporting hysterical screams found the girl partially clothed and the boys running from the scene.
Here's a story from ABC-15 in Phoenix. Will the major media's racial and religious sensitivities affect their coverage of the story? Liberia is estimated by the Department of State to be about 40 percent Christian, 40 percent indigenous African belief, and 20 percent Muslim. CNN reported the story on Friday (and apparently on Thursday), but Nexis presented only one transcript Friday, in the 2 pm hour. Why wouldn't CNN be carrying this every hour?
CNN anchor Kyra Phillips interviewed the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Liberian ambassador to America. Here's a transcript:
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we're moving ahead at the top of the hour right now. It's a shocking crime scene, all the more shocking because of the age of the alleged victim and the age of the suspects. We're pushing forward on a story we first brought you yesterday. A 14-year-old boy and three younger boys accused of gang -- gang raping, rather, an eight-year-old girl in an empty shed near a Phoenix apartment building. All five are Liberian refugees.
Police call it one of the most horrific crimes that they've seen. Perhaps even more disturbing, the fallout. Police took the girl away from her family, saying relatives blamed her for the rape.
Now, the three younger boys have been charged as juveniles, but the 14-year-old, he's being charged as an adult. But this story's far from over. Now, friends and relatives of the older boy say that prosecutors are going way too far. Here's Kristine Harrington from Phoenix affiliate KTVK.
FEMALE: I beg you, I want to see my son. I want to see my son. My son.
KRISTINE HARRINGTON, KTVK: A mother heartbroken. Her 14-year-old son Steven Tuopeh behind bars, charged with kidnapping and sexual assault, making his first appearance in court where prosecutors say he not only participated in, but initiated the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl.
FEMALE: The defendant was the person who gathered people together, bribed the other individual who actually committed the majority of the assault, and held the victim down while she was sexually assaulted.
HARRINGTON: The other three boys, nine, 10, and 13 years old, are being charged as juveniles. This mom doesn't understand why her son is being tried as an adult, unwilling to believe the charges against him.
FEMALE: I want to see my son. For a day, I've never seen my son.
HARRINGTON: Tuopeh and his family are Liberian refugees. They've only been here in the United States since 2005, and his family worries...
MALE: Whether he did it or not, he does not understand the people that he's talking to.
HARRINGTON: In court, this teenage boy was a man of few words, opting not to speak when asked if he had anything to say regarding his being held on no bond.
MALE: He does not speak English very well, and he does not understand English very well. He did not go to school. He started going to school when he came to the United States. And so, we deduced that he cannot really understand what is going on right now. And so everything that is being said to him, he has no choice but just to accept it even though he did not understand.
PHILLIPS: All right. Just a follow-up to that. We did talk to sources close to the investigation, sources that actually spoke with this young boy. And we are being told that he does speak English, so we want to make that clear.
Meanwhile, this story is sending shock waves around the world, as you can imagine, especially to Liberia, where the alleged victim and attackers are originally from. The president of that African nation, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has always been a friend to our news program. And she is actually going to call in and join us on the phone in just a minute.
But also joining us from Washington, the Liberian ambassador to the U.S., Milton Barnes. Ambassador, let's go ahead and start with you while we wait for Madam President.
You know, do you believe that what we're seeing here originates from your country, a country where, you know, often the woman is blamed for rape, shamed for rape? And, as you and I well know, rape was used as a tool during the Civil War and still is on many levels.
MILTON BARNES, LIBERIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Well, there is quite a bit of trauma involved all around. You are right, rape was used as a weapon of war during our crisis, and so our hearts go out to the young victim, the 8-year-old child. And our primary concern is for her well-being and her welfare. We have been in touch with the authorities in Phoenix, Arizona, particularly the police department, and so far, we are confident that they will use every resource within their power to ensure that things are done in a very quick, expeditious, fair, and most importantly, sensitive manner, particularly given the age of this child.
PHILLIPS: It's heartbreaking, an 8-year-old child being blamed (sic) for rape.Ambassador Barnes, stay with me, please. I do understand we do have President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, on the phone with us now.
Madam President, I know that you are well aware of the rape case that has happened here in the United States. What do you have to say about what you have heard with regard to these young Liberian boys allegedly gang-raping this 8-year-old Liberian girl?
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, LIBERIAN PRESIDENT: Let me say that we are deeply distressed at this behavior on the part of our young Liberians and very saddened at this 8-year-old child who has been so victimized. We appeal to the parents to protect their children, protect their child, and make sure that those who have infringed upon her in this manner are made to abide by the laws of the United States in this regard.
Let me say very clearly that rape is a problem in Liberia also. This is why we have made rape a non-bailable (ph) offense. It is a criminal offense. There is a strong law regarding that. You cannot even get bail.
So, those parents should know that things have changed in Liberia. No longer do we tolerate this. And this is not a question of shame on the family, it's a question of an assault on a young child. And that cannot be tolerated.
PHILLIPS: And Madam President, that's what's so heart-wrenching about this case, is it's this battle with culture and with crime. And we don't know why these boys committed this crime.
And we want to ask that question -- did they learn this type of behavior in Liberia, where rape is used as a tool during wartime, and where the young women are blamed for rape in that country? We hope to answer that question.
But what would be your message to the family of this 8-year-old girl that has been interviewed on camera saying, we're shamed by this, it's her fault, we don't want her back? What would you say to that family?
SIRLEAF: I think that family is wrong. They should help that child who has been traumatized, and they should make sure that they work with the U.S. law authorities to see what can be done about the other young boys who have committed this offense.
Not only should they abide by the law, but they too need serious counseling, because clearly they are doing something that is no longer acceptable in our society here. It's a problem, but it is a crime, and people bear the brunt of the penalty for such crimes.
They should be working with the authorities on this. I will ask Ambassador Barnes to work with the family to let them know what needs to be done, and to work with the legal authorities in Phoenix to make sure that this matter is handled, recognizing that we do not condone this and we must ensure the protection of that 8-year-old.
PHILLIPS: Ambassador Barnes, while we have Madam President on the line, can you tell us here at CNN and to our viewers and to Madam President that you will personally get involved in making sure this 8- year-old girl, whether it's with her family or another family, is cared for, loved, and embraced, and that these young boys will be taught that this is not permissible here in the U.S. and that there has to be an understanding that if they're going to live here and if they are found guilty of this crime, that it's wrong?
BARNES: Absolutely. Absolutely. Our primary concern right now is this child. I personally am concerned about her well-being and her welfare. We have been in touch with the authorities in Phoenix, and we do intend to work with the authorities and the families to make sure that she's safe, she's protected, and there is certain sensitivity exercised towards her considering that she is a child and doesn't know any better.
She certainly should not be blamed. She is only an 8-year-old kid, a baby, and doesn't know any better. And we will work with the authorities. We will, of course, also try to be in touch with the families of the perpetrators, the young boys, and also sure that they do get the appropriate counseling, but they do understand that what they have done is wrong and they will have to pay the penalty for what they have done.
PHILLIPS: Madam President, Steven Tuopeh, the 14-year-old boy that is being charged with rape, he is being charged as an adult. Do you support that?
SIRLEAF: If that's what the laws of the states dictate, then we'll have to follow the law. I do hope, however, that there will be counseling introduced into whatever happens.
These are also young people who clearly have had their value systems wrong. It does come from the practices of war. Many of them also have trauma from the war and are carrying on some of the same malpractices that we practiced upon them during the war. They have to pay the penalty, but we also want to make sure that they are counseled so that whenever they have already done time, or whatever, it is in accordance with the law that they, too, will have an opportunity to change and become useful citizens, not only in the United States, but when they return home.
PHILLIPS: Madam President, before I let you go, your message, please, to the 8-year-old girl, the young rape victim, and also to her family. What do you say to them?
SIRLEAF: Just say to them that we are so saddened. We are so sorry about that. We just want to make sure that the parents take care of that child. And if they don't, reach out to others, facilitated by our ambassador, to make sure she is placed in a situation where she can be administered to, that she can be loved and cared, and call upon the parents to do right by that child. We cannot allow her life to be so interrupted by this incident and take away the future that is so bright for her. So, we will be working with her through our ambassador to make sure that not only is she attended to, but that she can then continue in her education, and we can make sure that this particular incident is removed from her.
So, thank you all for following this and bringing attention to it. We will continue to work with the families and make sure that child is safe and protected.
PHILLIPS: And Madam President, we thank you. You have truly been a trailblazer there in Liberia, standing up for the rights of women, and have been an incredible asset, obviously, to our news coverage on a number of times. Madam President, thank you so much.
And Ambassador Milton Nathaniel Barnes, we call on you, too, and look to you to get involved in this case and keep us updated. We would like to talk to you again as we find more resolution not only for this family, this little girl, but for all the Liberian refugees here in this country, in particular the focus of Phoenix, Arizona, right now. ay we do a follow-up with you?
BARNES: Thank you very much. You're most welcome. I'll be available.
PHILLIPS: OK. We'll be in contact.