Five junior varsity football players in Maryland—who are also juveniles— have been charged with 2nd degree rape. The victims? Four of their teammates. The rape charges are in connection with an alleged attack in the locker room of Montgomery County’s Damascus High School on the afternoon of Halloween. According to the police report, the assailants allegedly turned out the lights and assaulted the teenagers—their teammates—one by one with a broomstick.
The last junior varsity game of the season was to be played the following day but Damascus High School chose to forfeit the final game. Varsity did play its regularly scheduled game and at least for now, there is no information to suggest that the varsity players were involved.
While the school district is already on the defensive over any suggestion that this alleged attack is indicative of a systemic problem within the football program, at least one victim has reported that when he told the assailants to stop they responded that this was a “tradition”. He told police that he had heard of the practice of “brooming” in middle school but assumed it was a myth.
The Superintendent and his assistant superintendents shared a video on Monday, November 5th, in response to the allegations but they chose to use the words “bullying”, “hazing”, “harassment”, “mental abuse”, “physical abuse” and “violence.” The word rape was not uttered. The Superintendent sent a letter to all Montgomery Schools families on November 9th with an update and still, the language remained muted. Despite criticism from some in the community, the school spokesman defended the district’s repeated use of the word “hazing” because it “is not a soft term in our world” and hazing incidents have led to injury or death across the country.
But here’s the problem. The video and the letter were both released days after five Damascus High School students were charged with rape and attempted rape. Initially, three of them were formally charged with two counts of second-degree rape and two counts of attempted second-degree rape. But later that same day two additional male students were charged, one with three counts of second-degree rape and the other with one count of attempted second-degree rape.
This is no time for the language of school leadership to be temperate or subdued. Words matter. We hear it all the time about our current president, we teach it to our children at home and in schools, and we expect it from our community leaders and school officials no matter how horrific, uncomfortable and disheartening the subject may be. “Hazing” and “bullying” do not even come to close accurately characterizing what allegedly happened in that locker room on Halloween. Neither word is sufficient and each is a barrier in getting us to where we need to be on the issue of sexual assault even when it happens between teammates as part of some sick—and criminal—tradition.
The county PTA president Lynne Harris, who is also a teacher in the school system, rightly called the alleged behavior outrageous. “Hazing is one thing, but these allegations are about sexual assault,” she said. Exactly right Mrs. Harris and it’s too bad that the Superintendent and his team lack the moral courage to call this what it is. People don’t think of rape and sodomy when they hear ‘bullying’ and ‘hazing’. And we need the players, coaches, parents, and community to understand the gravity and criminality of what is alleged to have happened to 4 young men at the hands of their teammates in their school locker room.
In more bad news for the Montgomery Country community, a police spokesman for the county has reported that on September 18th the agency investigated a case of alleged unwanted sexual touching among football players at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, Maryland. Detectives learned there were multiple possible suspects and one possible victim but because the alleged victim chose not to pursue the case, it’s unclear what exactly did or did not happen.
According to Captain Paul Starks, the spokesman, “these types of investigations are victim-driven.”
In response to the reports of this additional incident, MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said that disciplinary action was taken against multiple students and added that adults were reprimanded for a lack of supervision.
With regard to the Damascus High School case, Starks admits that “due to the tender age of everyone involved on both sides of this issue, we are closely guarding many of the details of this ongoing investigation.”