Page One

Psychologists warn against pointing fingers after rape case

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Monday November 20, 2000

Now that the TV news vans have left town, now that the shock of a tragic reoccurrence of rape has begun to recede, teachers, police and parents begin the struggle to understand how it happened. 

Police and school officials have said the two incidents of rapes involving one 12-year-old girl and 10 teenage boys at two middle schools were isolated incidents and that there is no need to be concerned about student safety. 

Last Friday, the news broke that a 12-year-old girl had been raped for a second time on Nov. 9, two days after she was transferred to a Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School where she was to start over. The incident occured just 15 days after the girl was raped after school at Willard Middle School. There were hints that the victim may have made herself vulnerable to the attacks, there were calls to jail the teenage suspects and teachers and school officials wrung their hands and talked about more and better sex education programs. 

Another 13-year-old boy was arrested and released to his parents. And the media descended on the town certain there is something uniquely wrong in Berkeley’s schools. 

Professor Thomas Spencer, of San Francisco State University’s Developmental Psychology Department said that in a situation like this you have to be careful before assigning blame. “You can’t point fingers unless you’re willing to look at society at large,” Spencer said. “The poor middle school, all those kids with surging hormones in one building.” 

Spencer said puberty is more difficult now than it was in years past because of a constant bombardment of sex and violence. “How often do you turn on the TV and not see sex, violence or both? It’s permeating our whole society and much of it is focused on young people.” 

He said that TV, music, the Internet and a plethora of corporations use sex and violence to sell and that teenagers are the most susceptible to these images. 

He said blaming the teenagers in this particular incident would not do anyone any good. “The problem is much larger than a single incident,” Spencer said. “To assign blame in one incident would accomplish little because it will only happen again somewhere else.” 

Berkeley Police Lt. Russell Lopes said there is a great deal of “high-hormonal sex play” in schools and that some of the teenagers involved don’t think they did anything wrong. “It becomes a very thin line between sex play and a sex crime,” he said.  

He added such situations can go bad quickly with the right amount of peer pressure, the right kind of victim and an opportunity. 

Stephanie Boris, who has a daughter in junior high school, said she knows about sexual horseplay at the schools but still believes they are fundamentally safe places for students. “I still drive up to the school every morning and drop my daughter off and I wouldn’t do that if I thought It was a dangerous place,” she said.  

Boris said the best place to avoid incidents like this is when children are young. “All these kids are going to get hit with a rush of hormones and the question is how they’re going react,” she said, “and it all depends on the type of example they have when they’re young.”