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A teen-age pregnancy


YESTERDAY'S news was filled with reports about the latest Census study, showing a skyrocketing increase in out-of-wedlock births in the past decade.

Earlier this summer, it was reported that more than 50 percent of all rape victims are under the age of 18 and that the perpertrator is usually an adult man.

Reading such news accounts makes me think of a young West Baltimore girl who is a statistic in both of those reports and of the adults who need to do more to prevent young girls from becoming statistics.

I learned about Tina -- I'll call her that to protect her privacy -- in 1989 when I and several other women founded a mentoring group under the direction of an African-American women's service organization. Our goal was to provide educational and social activities for inner-city girls, ages 10 to 15.

I selected Tina as my "mentee" from a biographical sketch provided by the group's counseling service, which helped low-income families.

One of the counselors told me that Tina was a good student, but she seemed strangely detached when she and her mother came to counseling sessions.

At the age of 23, I had great hopes of being a positive role model for Tina. I envisioned the two of us doing wonderful, fun things together -- trips to the Inner Harbor for ice cream, visits to Washington landmarks. I thought I could help her overcome the inevitable setbacks.

I was the naive one.

I was to meet Tina at a get-acquainted session organized by the women's group about a month after I selected her. I arrived early to help hang streamers, blow up balloons and set out snacks.

An hour into the party, most of the girls had arrived, except Tina. After the last girl left, the group's sponsor told me that Tina's mother had called during the party and said that Tina was withdrawing from the program because she was two months pregnant.

I was shocked. It took a few moments for the news to sink in. Then I walked over to Tina's family counselor, who was helping clean up the room, and asked her if she knew that Tina was pregnant.

The counselor didn't seem surprised. She told me that Tina's boyfriend was a 28-year-old drug dealer who lived with Tina and her mother in their rented rowhouse.

In retrospect, I suspect that Tina's mother did not want her daughter to continue in the mentoring group out of fear that we might report them to the police. After all, it is illegal for an adult man to have sex with a 14-year-old girl. A mother who let it happen would probably be viewed as an accomplice by police.

At the time, I didn't know that Tina's situation was considered rape. I didn't know that I should have called the police. I didn't know that Tina's counselor was obligated to do so; she seemed to take it as a matter of course.

Now, five years later, I sometimes wonder what happened to Tina and her child and her boyfriend. Did Tina finish school? Is the baby healthy? Is the father still around, in jail or even alive?

I don't know if the women's group ever reported Tina's case to the authorities.

I have decided that Tina's circumstances can be blamed on adults -- her mother, her counselor, her boyfriend -- and me; I let myself be lulled by others' indifference.

Her mother apparently agreed to the situation in exchange for drugs from the boyfriend.

Tina's counselor may have felt overwhelmed by her case load. Or maybe she simply was afraid of the drug dealer's vengeance.

Except maybe for some of the particulars, Tina's case is not unusual. That is what the statistics tell us, at least. What they don't say is that many adults play a role in allowing it to happen. And we can be sure that it will continue to happen as long as we are silent.

Constance McIver writes from Baltimore.

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