The middle school basketball team was unsupervised in the locker room and it was the perfect opportunity for the older boys to exercise their dominance over the younger members of the team.
Boys physically morph into young men seemingly overnight at that age. It is not at all uncommon for a seventh grade boy to close his locker on the last day before summer vacation as a scrawny little boy, only to return a few months later to open it again inches taller, layered with muscle, and sporting facial hair.
That fateful day in the locker room, the four eighth graders were bigger and stronger than their seventh grade prey. It wasn’t a fair fight anyway. There were four of them, and only one of him.
His fear must have been palatable as they grabbed him, and threw him to the ground. I am sure he struggled. I am certain they laughed at his vain attempt to free himself from their grasp.
Then, three of them held him down so that the fourth boy could disrobe him and then sodomize him with a felt tip marker.
I don’t understand this evil strain of sexual assault that runs throughout history and into every culture. I can’t understand how a group of human beings celebrating their newly won freedom found it acceptable to rape journalist Lara Logan in Tahrir Square. I don’t understand the depravity that classifies systematic rape a reasonable weapon of war in Africa.
And I weep as I try to wrap my mind around the fact that four boys so near to my hometown could sodomize another child who just wanted to play basketball for his middle school.
I look at the freckled face boy who smiles at me as he bags my groceries and wonder, were you one of the four?
I watch the tall muscular boy with long dark hair as he officiates my daughter’s soccer game and think, were you one of the ones?
These are valid concerns, because these boys walk free. They were sent to the alternative school for 11 days, removed from the basketball team and placed on probation by their school.
Later on, the school board reinstated them to the basketball team. In one lone act of justice, they were in fact convicted by the juvenile court system, but their conviction was thrown out upon appeal.
Their coach was charged with failure to report the sexual assault of a child, but the charge was dismissed. He still coaches the team.
It turns out this child was not their only victim. Sometime later, it was discovered that they had preyed on another younger child. They tricked him into doing a sit up blindfolded as the stood over him with their genitals exposed.
The principal called the incident “a bad practical joke”. No further disciplinary measures were taken.
The two victims have since changed schools, and this week a civil jury found the school board liable for failing to protect them and awarded them each $100,000. I am betting there is not enought money in the world to erase the emotional scars left behind. Hopefully, the settlement can at least provide them with some therapy.
As for the other boys, they walk among us- nameless sexual predators bagging our groceries, cutting our lawns, asking our daughters to the prom. Each day they grow bigger and stronger. Every moment that passes inches them a step closer to adulthood, and all of the power that comes with it.
And whether or not they realize it, they too have been victims in this atrocity. They were profoundly harmed by the adults in their lives- men and women who were more concerned with getting them out of trouble than getting them help. If only they had possessed the courage and moral forititude to hold these young men firmly accountable for their crimes. Then, perhaps, these boys might have had a fighting chance at redemption.