Silent Scream

A series of teen rapes shocks local Hmong parents into confronting a new culture: their children.

At the time of the attack, Mai's* parents were at their wits' end. Things were tense at home, as a police report would put it much later, because she had been "running away." The document doesn't specify what that meant; perhaps Mai wasn't coming home after school to help run the house and care for her siblings, as many Hmong daughters are expected to do. Perhaps she found the door locked when she stayed out too late. The report does say that Mai's father threatened to send her away for six months to teach her a lesson.

So when she left the family's St. Paul home that last Saturday in March to go to a barbecue, Mai had already stepped out of line. But her 14-year-old sister, Yer*, and Yer's boyfriend were also going, and Mai didn't think twice about getting into a car with several guys she'd never met. Yer and her date got into another, and the caravan drove to a house on St. Paul's East Side.

Mai saw Yer and her boyfriend get out of their car and started to follow them. But the five older boys she was with stopped her, explain-

Shannon Brady

ing that they had to make one more stop before the cookout. She later recalled that the gray Toyota cruised to the intersection of Highway 61 and Lower Afton Road and under a bridge before finally coming to a stop in a secluded part of St. Paul's Battle Creek Park. One of the young men, whom Mai heard the others refer to as Junior, told her to get out.

He grabbed her arm and marched her away from the parking area. After walking a short distance, Mai stumbled. Junior, a 16-year-old whose real name is Chia Vang, pushed her down on her back and took off her pants, demanding that Mai "show me some love." She protested that she was only 12, still a virgin, and didn't want to get married. She wanted to "stay clean and not be a bad girl," she told the St. Paul Police Department sex crimes investigator who ultimately took her statement.

Junior pulled down his own pants. Mai tried to hit him, cried and screamed, to no avail. After Vang, the other four young men--the youngest 14, the oldest 22--took their turns, with the group's leader, Wang Vang, known to the other young men as "Willow," going last.

"When Willow was done, [Mai] put her own clothes back on and then [one of the attackers] took her for a short walk and asked her if she wanted to go out with him," the investigator reported. "Mai told me that she didn't want to go out with [him] but she thought she had better have a boyfriend so she would have someone to marry if she did turn out to be pregnant from this assault. So she told him she would go out with him. [They] returned to the vehicle and [he] told the other suspects that they shouldn't touch Mai anymore."

On the way back to the barbecue, the five teens told Mai that she was now an Asian Crip Lady. Mai didn't want that either, but she didn't say anything. She was thinking about what would happen if anyone found out she'd had sex. Her parents might beat her. At the very least, she was sure the incident would make her a bad girl, shunned by her family and the rest of the Hmong community. The Asian Crips and their ladies might be her only friends from now on.

When they got back to the house on the East Side, Mai didn't tell anyone what had happened--not even her sister. If Yer had known what was to take place, Mai couldn't imagine her sister would have let her get into the car.

Nor did she tell anyone about the next three times she met up with the group over the following two weeks, when her new boyfriend's directive that she not be touched again proved moot. During one episode, she failed to perform oral sex to one of her attackers' expectations, so he fired a gun into the air and ground to scare her. In another, Mai was raped anally. When she came home walking funny, her mother began calling her a slut. (Mai didn't know it at the time, but her sister and a 12-year-old friend had been taken to separate locations that night and were undergoing their own "raping in" initiations.)

In what police believe was Mai's final ordeal, she was one of three girls kept for several days at a Motel 6 in Roseville. She told police she wasn't raped that time; after seeing the other two girls spread on the two beds in the room, a line of gang members at the foot of each bed awaiting their turns, she'd locked herself in the bathroom. But after their arrests several of the gang members confessed to violating Mai at the motel.

In all, Mai was an Asian Crip Lady for less than a month--the time it took for another girl to open up to a tutor, who told the story to investigators with the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department and the Minnesota Gang Strike Force. Because of their ages and the nature of the crimes, City Pages agreed not to use Mai's real name or those of the other juvenile victims. Publicizing the names, investigators and counselors who've worked on the cases say, could reinforce fears of discussing the subject in a culture that traditionally has kept internal problems from outsiders' view. Though the crime has set off a strong reaction in the local Hmong community, many of the activists, social workers, and counselors contacted for this story refused to discuss the subject for fear the victims and their families would be stigmatized.

Next Page »