The scapegoating of Ronald Price


AS THE father of a teen-age daughter, I could not have been more gratified by the child-abuse conviction of Ronald Price, the Anne Arundel County teacher who made a habit of seducing his female students. Raising children these days is tough enough without having to worry about their teachers coming on to them.

That said, I must confess to some lingering doubts about this case.

For one thing, the portrayal of Ron Price as some kind of sex demon simply doesn't ring true. If his uncontrolled libido and stupid public utterances reflect anything, it is desperation, not cunning. So this demon image is suspect, and I cannot help but wonder to what extent it serves to obscure the culpability of others.

Remember that Price was sexually involved with his students for years, sometimes as often as three or four times weekly. There is no way he could have gone undetected for so long without the willful neglect of others (a point sure to be confirmed when the Anne Arundel school board issues its final report).

Most significantly, these others include all those teachers, administrators and parents who turned away whenever hints of Price's abuses surfaced. Does his demon image divert attention from their failure to act more responsibly?

This question extends to Price's victims. They were described as helpless and vulnerable at the time of their liaisons with him; yet had they engaged in the same behavior with males their own age, they would more likely have been characterized as promiscuous. Surely they must bear some responsibility. For they returned repeatedly to have sex with him, and there is no indication they were ever physically coerced.

I do not wish to seem insensitive by raising these questions, but to point out that after so many months of intense media scrutiny, and a trial that was as predictable as it was brief, this case remains far more ambiguous than many wish to believe.

The problems of sexuality today -- especially teen sexuality -- could not be more ambiguous, and our conflicted attitudes show it. For example, we recoil at the suggestion that teen-age females might be interested in older men, but there's no denying the fact that older males father many babies born to teen-age mothers. Are these young mothers simply "helpless victims"?

What about female college students who go to bed with their older professors? Are they helpless victims? Some of us would argue no because they are "of age." But who is to say their sexual relationships aren't every bit as full of exploitation as those of Price and his students?

Indeed, it is quite likely that many high school students are more prepared for sexual relations than their college counterparts. Price's wife, who began having relations with him while still in high school, said as much in court: "I had complete control of my faculties. I was mature for my age and I did what I felt I wanted to do."

Granted, her testimony was biased, but it cannot be dismissed for that reason alone. And there is little doubt her sentiments are shared by many teen-age females, however uncomfortable it makes us feel.

That Ron Price took advantage of his students is beyond question. And when he is sentenced, I hope they throw the book at him.

But I do not kid myself that his going to jail will do anything to alter our troubled sexual landscape. For he is but a symptom of the sexual pathology tearing at our society. And when you consider the rampant sexual violence, priestly pedophilia and sexually transmitted disease that permeate life, Price's transgressions, for all their seriousness, pale by comparison.

By all means punish Ron Price. But don't make him a scapegoat for the sins of others. Or for stirring up feelings we wish we didn't have.

Howard Bluth writes from Baltimore.

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