A teachable moment on teens and sex


AH, THE PROVERBIAL teachable moment!

The latest one in these parts comes to us from Howard County, where there was a rape in a high school and then, within a matter of mere days, suddenly there wasn't.

"We're using this whole unfortunate incident as a teachable moment," Mount Hebron High School Principal Veronica Bohn told The Sun on Thursday night.

In case you just blew into town after taking that three-week cruise of the Caribbean, let's recount what the "unfortunate incident" is.

On April 15, a girl at Mount Hebron accused three boys who attended the school of raping her in a restroom. One boy held her wrists, another watched the door and the third committed the act, the girl told police.

All three boys were arrested that day. Demitris R. Myrick, 18, Christopher S. Berry, 16, and Roderick D. Rudolph, 15, were charged as adults with rape the next day. A Howard County District Court judge denied bail for all three.

The plot thickened on Monday, when discrepancies surfaced between the accounts of the girl and the suspects. On Wednesday, the trio had a second bail review hearing, and each was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond.

On Thursday night, Howard County prosecutors said charges against the boys would be dropped. The girl had changed her story. She wasn't raped. The sex was consensual. Is there anything teachable from this tawdry tale of teen whoopee gone amok? A couple things, perhaps.

Teachable moment No. 1: Was this Scottsboro II?

Warren A. Brown, perhaps the best attorney in Baltimore not named A. Dwight Pettit, represented Myrick. When asked to comment on this tale's teachable moment, he called it "Scottsboro II," a reference to the first Scottsboro case that involved nine black male teen-agers charged with raping two white women in Alabama in 1931.

Yes, in the Mount Hebron case, all three suspects are black and the alleged victim is white. (We know from television pictures the race of the suspects. It's only fair that we know the race of the confessed prevaricator.) But the results of the cases were completely different.

That's lesson No. 1. Americans aren't what we used to be on the matter of race, and we're better for it. Seventy-three years ago, a similar situation occurred in which race very much mattered - some of the men were convicted and spent time in prison. In this case, race did not matter.

Brown made his reference to "Scottsboro II" almost in jest. He had nothing but praise for how Howard County police handled the matter.

"They did not investigate this from the point of view that they had made up their minds," Brown said. "I give them kudos."

Brown is not as enamored of Howard County prosecutors, who have indicated they will not bring charges against the girl.

"I know the girl has some problems," Brown said. "But she steals credibility from real victims of rape. I'm afraid that what [not bringing charges] does is send the message out that these false allegations will not give rise to any punitive action for the liar. The public needs to know that this will never be tolerated."

Teachable moment No. 2: Can we let schools be schools and leave the teaching of values to parents?

"Obviously this is one of those social issues that spills over into schools," said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the Howard County school system. "Schools end up with responsibility and accountability. That probably should be shared. We really count on parents to discuss these things with their children."

"These things" would be the proper time and place to have sex. Ideally - and this hasn't happened since Ward, June, Wally and the Beave gathered around the dinner table - that won't be until well into their adult years. American values have changed. Caplan - right on the mark - said the media is partly to blame.

"I would like the media to take more responsibility for the messages they send out about what sex is all about," Caplan said. In the meantime, Bohn may send a message of her own to all four students about that very grave matter of engaging in sexual activity on school grounds.

"I know every principal takes those things seriously," Caplan said, "and [Bohn] will send a message."

Bohn can send a very strong one to the girl and the boys: Expel them all from Mount Hebron. Interim Howard County school Superintendent Sidney L. Cousin can go a step further: Expel them from the system.

That's right. Tell this quartet they can go to any public school system they want, just not Howard County's. If we want this to be a teachable moment, then we can teach these transgressors that performing sexual acts in school will be met with the severest punishment possible.

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