Who’s to Blame in Sex Assault of Girl? Father Says Nobody

Corey Rangel, KNXV-TV (Phoenix), July 24, 2009

It’s a story creating a huge stir across Arizona.

The parents of an 8-year-old girl sexually assaulted by four boys are blaming their daughter for the attack, according to police.

Those four boys are now under arrest, and the victim is in Child Protective Services, away from her mom and dad.

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The father also said the family moved to the United States five years ago from West Africa and they don’t understand the United States’ criminal system.

When ABC15 asked him what he wants to happen to the suspects involved in the assault against his daughter, he answered, “nothing.”

Police are exploring what impact culture may have played in the incident and in the parent’s response.

The four sex assault suspects in the crime apparently lured the girl into a vacant shed near 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road last Thursday by offering her chewing gum, said Phoenix Police Sgt. Andy Hill.

They then restrained her, and sexually assaulted her for 10 to 15 minutes, according to Hill.

Officers were called to the scene after receiving phone calls about the young girl screaming, and running out of the shed partially clothed.

Arriving officers said they saw several boys running from the scene, and were able to detain one and later identify three more.

Hill said all the boys, ages 9, 10, 13 and 14, have been arrested and put in a juvenile corrections center. All four have apparently admitted to planning the assault and have been charged in the case.

One of the boys, identified as 14-year-old Steven Tuopeh, is being tried as an adult for the crimes, facing two counts of sexual assault and one count of kidnapping.

The 13-year-old suspect is accused of three counts of sexual assault, and one count of kidnapping. The 10-year-old is accused of two counts of sexual assault and one count of kidnapping. The 9-year-old suspect is accused of one count of sexual assault. All of the crimes listed are class 2 felonies.

According to authorities, the girl’s parents said they blame their daughter for the assault and for bringing shame on her family.

A relative at the girl’s home said the statement was untrue but declined to elaborate.

According to the victim’s family, the 8-year-old victim wanted to go to a party and left the home.

“Looked around, I look around and she was not here,” said the 8-year-old’s father.

Femi Babarinde, an African Studies professor from the Thunderbird School of Global Management, said it is normal to feel shame because of a rape in the family in the Liberian culture.

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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.

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“This is a deeply disturbing case that has gripped our community,” Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Thursday. “Our office will seek justice for the young victim in this heartrending situation.”

Hill cited the family’s background as the reason the family shunned the girl. All five children are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia.

In some parts of Africa, women often are blamed for being raped for enticing men or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Girls who are raped are often shunned by their families.

“It’s a shame-based culture, so the crime is not as important as protecting the family name and the name of the community,” said Tony Weedor, a Liberian refugee in Littleton, Colo., and co-founder of the CenterPoint International Foundation, which helps Liberians resettle in the U.S. “I just feel so sorry for this little girl. Some of these people will not care about the trauma she’s going through–they’re more concerned about the shame she brought on the family.”

Ali Keita, a Liberian refugee and president of the Arizona Mandingo Association, works with refugees to ease their integration into U.S. society. Keita said that Liberian families may question why sexual-assault victims were in a situation that left them open for attack but that the initial response likely stems from disappointment and frustration with the family’s circumstances.

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The girl’s healing process will be particularly difficult, said Paul Penzone of Childhelp, which aids young victims of crime. Authorities said the victim was in the care of Child Protective Services.

“These four boys used what was a ploy to entice her to a place where they could take advantage of her almost like a pack of wolves,” he said.

“And what’s so disturbing beyond the initial crime is the fact that a child needs to have somewhere to feel safe, and you would think that would be in a home with her own family,” not in state custody, Penzone said.

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