As Walters reports, Hicks-Best was abused as a small child before she was adopted by her parents, Veronica and Mayo Best. She certainly had emotional problems and spent much of her childhood in therapy. While she denies that she went willingly with the young men, it’s also not hard to believe that an emotionally unstable 11-year-old might have been easy to lure. But that a victim was easy to manipulate doesn’t mean she’s any less a victim or that her assailants are any less predatory. That’s why we have statutory rape laws. But for some reason, the police in this case just couldn’t see an 11-year-old for the child that she was, instead painting her with the hoary old stereotype of the slut who cries “rape” to cover up her sexual transgressions. And, because of it, treating her like she is the criminal here.

That the police and prosecutors could see a child as “promiscuous” may be about race. Hicks-Best is Black, and research published last spring shows that people, including police officers, tend to perceive Black children as older than they are, and therefore more responsible for their behavior. The study looked at boys and criminal behavior, but it’s not a great leap to suggest that something similar could be at play when it comes to perceptions of girls and their responsibility for sexual behavior. Certainly, the way that Hicks-Best was treated by police, including questioning her for hours and trying to trap her in a lie, suggests that they simply couldn’t process that she was a child, and therefore was going to act like a child.