Baltimore's Sex Scandal

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Sex Ed 2001


Janet Reitman writes, "He was 16 and she was 15, and they made consensual love in front of a video camera one Friday last March. In a flash, their sordid story swept through Baltimore. Before it ended, the St. Paul's Crusaders had received a costly lesson in politics."

"The series of events. The high school lacrosse team played an out-of-town game and won. Riding home on the bus, spirits are soaring. Talk turns to sex. Remember that scene in American Pie? The one with the video? Wasn't it funny? Somebody should make a video like that. Wouldn't that be cool? It's a joke. A guy joke, everybody laughs = that kind of joke. But for one sophomore, the youngest boy on the bus, about to descent from varsity to JV for a little more playing time, it's no joke. This is his moment: Are you willing to rise to the challenge, banish that wuss rep, the sweet-guy thing forever?  And so, to the suggestion Somebody should..., our boy does. The next day, a member of their fold, a 16-year-old junior-varsity teammate, took a frame out of the American Pie and videotaped himself having sex with a 15-year-old girl. The sex was consensual. In the next three days, roughly twenty-three of the teams thirty-three players watched the video and Baltimore's private-school network was buzzing. The varsity players watch it on Monday. The girl's head mistress hears the news on Tuesday. On Wednesday, she notified St Paul's (a school where Our Guys, the book about the high school rape scandal in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, is required summer reading).

"Someone - parent, kid, teacher or coach, has already tipped off the press. 'Sexist pig.' 'Fucking pig.' Women have been screaming it for years, and now it has caught on as a call to arms. Letters appears in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. It's bandied about on the Web. The girl's attorney appears on the news to plead: Give back the tapes! Rumor has it there are copies. Twenty? Fifty? No one knows for sure. Apparently, these copies are sweeping through the private-school community and the girl has bolted town to escape humiliation. The boys plotted this thing, cries the press; they put money in a hat. It was a bet! It as a hazing! It's a cottage industry. Those tapes, they're for sale on the Internet at five bucks a pop. By Friday, the State's Attorney's office was considering wiretap infringement and child pornography charges, each carrying 5 to 10 years respectively and $10,000 to $25,000 in fines. The news has cast this video saga as a classic case of oversexed rich boys run amuck. Daily updates included televised images of video cameras, anguished students and faculty, a soft-focus shot of a bedroom, as seen through louvered doors. The Baltimore Sun runs a series of somber articles in Section A and a slew of opinion on the Op-Ed page. In the days that followed, the story moved from the local news to the national stage. It sparked two months of soul searching. The culture at large searched for some kind of lesson. Fifteen-year-olds "are way too young to be having sex" wrote Bob Levey, a columnist for The Washington Post. "No fifteen-year-old is equipped to handle it."

"But as many others noted, kids that young are having sex every day - always have. (In many countries, they're developing families of their own by 13.) What should people do? Decry sex? Suggest celibacy? Should parents, as Levey wrote, "guide sexually active kids down a protective path?" And what exactly would that path be?  Again, nobody knew. What these people did know is that sex can be "dynamite." And so, in this way, the hysteria spread and morphed and twisted until, finally, this story was not about lacrosse or the jock culture or urban blight in the face of blinding wealth - no more than it was ever about this girl, whoever she was, whatever she did or didn't do, since good girl, bag girl, no girl is quite accepted as the sexual being she is. None of this was about the boys either, not individually. Instead it was about the nature of boys: impulsive, self-absorbed, sexually charged, a nature that implies collective guilt. What we had here was a rape but not a rape. The sex was consensual buy terribly graphic. It was on videotape. The actors were children. The viewers were children. Some had to be blamed, if not individually, then collectively. Bad Boys.

"Teachers call them "Shitheads" and "pure evil." Classmates ask them if they plan to rape other girls. They have Cokes spilled on them and trays and dinner plates knocked to the floor at restaurants, at the mall, when they are out with their mothers, sisters, girlfriends. People scream at them in public places. People get up and move. People call them a disgrace. They spend two days with the directors of the local battered-women's shelter. Draw a box, they are told and inside it describe your "perfect girl." Some boys write "Barbie." Others write "skinny" or "funny," "pretty" or "pretty eyes." Who's outside the box? Some write "tomboys," "a bigger girl" or "fat." Choose which girl you prefer, the counselors say. Whom would you choose?

"The boys are told the pretty girl is the wrong answer. By choosing her, they learn, they are reinforcing the culture of oppression and male dominance. And that is why girls are so screwed up in the first place.

"They mean well, these counselors, but really. The entire oeuvre of '70s feminist rhetoric is trotted out for our boys, who, after all, are from the South. They have been raised to open doors and get the car and stand when a woman leaves the table. They argue until it's a joke. Then they laugh. Shrug it off. No one buys the jargon. It is blatantly political.

"Said one parent, "All I can say is a lot of people sprouted halos and wings. Good Lord, we grew up in the '60s and '70s-we went to Woodstock. God knows what we all did...And now they expect our kids to leave the room?  What planet are these people on?"

"All this in a era where they have easy exposure to and are the target audience for programs like Undressed, Real Sex, and American Pie, they listen to Will Durst, lust after Britney Spears and jerk off, a lot, to XXX-videos and Internet porn. They will tell you about it, in detail, if you ask them. They watch half the racy stuff on TV with their parents: Sex and the City, the Sopranos, MTV. Oral sex is not really sex; it's not even as intimate as kissing. Many of these boys have been receiving it since age 14. No, these boys aren't anything out of the ordinary, just a bunch of guys, technologically savvy, and sexually sophisticated, but many on the team are still virgins.

"But in these times, it's the girls who often make the moves. Oh, to be a girl, to be a fearsome daughter of feminism's second wave! It is to be destiny's child - truly - for it's simply a glorious time to be a young woman in American. Thanks to twenty years of advocacy and example setting, from Carol Gilligan to Courtney Love, today's girl can be just who she wants to be - band geek, beauty queen, tigress, all three. She can pierce her clit, play Juliet, wear body armor and win a Westinghouse scholarship; she can be a virgin, a slut, a bit of both even - for to be a New Girl is to own your sex, wherever, whenever. It's awesome, inspiring. It scares the shit out of us.

"Behold our beautiful Christinas, Britneys and Beyonces, and our so-so Melissas, Alyssas and Zies, Clad in tiny tees and hip-huggers, with belly rings and boob jobs. Oh, they are something, all right. They think, and now talk, about sex in the lunchroom, in the locker room, in homeroom and after school they pluck masturbation and oral-sex tips from girl-friendly Web sites arrayed with purple daisies. They speak two languages, sometimes three, excel in sports and in school - in both the humanities and the sciences. Indeed, they outnumber boys are most universities and are far more likely to pursue advanced degrees.

"Girls look like women, much to our horror. A survey of the nation's high schools reveals a panoply of girl-only don'ts: spaghetti straps, hip-huggers, backless shirts, miniskirts, backless shoes, thongs that peak above the waistband, see-through clothing. They look for grown-up, these girls, but inside, their hearts are still innocent. They talk a good game, tell you they want you, but do they? They are of two minds: They pounce, they pull away. They don't know what to do. Girls hate, even fear, saying no. Then again, what is now now, in this new world where being bad is good?

"Boys? They think with their dicks. They're emotionally immature. But they laugh at things like dress codes, since they live by other rules. Sniffer bogs, backpack searches - school security guards are now on the alert for Swiss Army knives. By 16, many boys look like men. In forty-seven states, they are men in the eyes of the laws. Despite a nationwide decline in teen crime, 200,000 youths have been tried in adult courts this past year, most of them adolescent boys. Arrest rates have soared, along with the number of teens on death row. Though the criminal-justice system has few facilities for teenage girls, entire warehouses are built solely to imprison boys between the ages of 12 and 16.

"Girls, boys, they test limits, they make huge mistakes. But girls get a free pass while boys bay the price. It's an open secret among women. Yet to speak of the incongruity is taboo.

"After the State's Attorney disposed of the case, after the press moved on and long, long after the boys had lost their lacrosse season, it was determined that much of the hysteria had been unfounded. The video was not for sale on the Internet. The flood of copies never materialized. The girl hadn't left town. She was in school, going to parties, exchanging E-mail with the boys. Margaret Mead, an attorney for the girl, whose press statements were the spark of many rumors, says much of her initial information was false. "They didn't deserve this, the boys. They screwed up, but they were held accountable as if they were men - and at this age, they're just not."

This story reflects what happens too often with a media that's lost its morals for it's no longer interested in truth but in sensationalism. The Baltimore Sun is reluctant to answer questions regarding their coverage. Though one or their writers said "I had to write the stories. There was no obligation to facts, no responsibility when it came to interviewing people...It was just the easiest thing to do, to pass judgment on these guys, and we crucified them."  He notes, with more than a touch of irony, that this same news media offered almost no scrutiny when Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis faced charges of murder. "You couldn't find one member of the press who wanted to say Ray Lewis was guilty, because he was the key to the Super Bowl."

"Ironically, this happened in a wealthy suburb of Baltimore. The boys involved with varsity lacrosse athletes on the nation's best team. Boys that were destined to become Baltimore's future, a town that seriously needs a future. A town that's a gapping wound of a place, with a population of 650,000 and a murder rate six times that of New York City. A town where one-tenth of the population is addicted to drugs. Fifteen percent of the teens are neither in school nor employed. Half the schools have been targeted for state takeover. In the past eight years, 2,500 people have been murdered in Baltimore proper, most of them African-American adolescent males. That's a far cry from the two white private school boys who died in 2001 - both in drunk driving accidents.

"The whole Baltimore media community should be castigated for what we did to those boys," says the reporter who covered the story. (But we all know that the media are going to be the last to ever take responsibility for what they do. After all, there's new news to write. New stories to make up and sensationalize. It's sweeps week. Let's see what they dig up this time. For there will be another time. And many more, unfortunately. Sorry, this is old news.")

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