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Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Lesson Plan:
High School Rape Controversy

Dennis Fox

March 14, 2002

 

Two accused rapists suspended from Canton High School created an uproar two weeks ago when they showed up with documents proving they now live in Brookline. Brookline High School Headmaster Robert Weintraub registered the teenagers, but suspended them a few days later. The presence of the accused felons, he decided, was detrimental to the school environment: "I walked into the classrooms," he explained, "and teachers were talking to their kids" about the boys.

The headmaster's in a tough spot. But instead of bemoaning classroom discussion, why not seize the teachable moment? The controversy seems ripe for dissection along a range of complex issues, from safety and sex roles to the nature of punishment and law.

If I were a teacher at BHS, I might first ask my students how authorities should balance safety with other concerns. The two 17 year-olds, charged with forcible rape of a 15 year-old girl, have not yet been convicted. Should this make a difference in how they're treated?

Since they're accused of rape not on school grounds but in a Canton apartment after a party, does their on-campus attendance at BHS really endanger students? If so, should the administration have notified students rather than simply let rumors spread?

If Brookline was legally obligated to admit the two, does it make sense to then suspend them because their presence is "detrimental to the school environment" rather than because authorities consider them an actual danger? We don't ordinarily exclude people just because others don't want them around or because their presence attracts attention. What makes this different?

Second, I might ask students, what causes so many boys and men to rape, and what can be done to stop it?

This difficult topic has come up before at Brookline High. Given the high incidence of rape in all its forms, the Canton newcomers are probably not the only students at BHS who merit concern. How wary should high school girls be, not just of boys formally charged with rape, but of all boys and men?

The Canton students are charged with raping someone they knew. To what extent is date or acquaintance rape a problem in Brookline? How often does high school dating turn violent? The answers might surprise teachers and parents.

More broadly, how successful have been efforts to alter traditional sex roles that reinforce male power and endanger girls and women? Can they be successful? Does typical dating behavior make rape unsurprising?

Third, what should we do with violent teenagers? Should we treat them like adults? Is it fair to subject teens to adult-appropriate punishment when we don't grant them adult-appropriate rights?

Punishment has many different, sometimes conflicting, goals. Is it most important to give perpetrators the treatment they "deserve"? Or to ensure public safety by locking them up, even if that means they'll eventually be released as prison-hardened ex-cons more violent than when they were arrested?

Is the effort to deter future wrongdoing -- by making an example of those who are caught -- likely to have much impact on boys steeped in myths about how men are supposed to act, especially boys who know that most rapes are never punished?

If not prison, what?

And if the boys do receive more lenient treatment such as probation, would they receive it because it's appropriate or, instead, because these particular alleged rapists are clean-cut, white, and relatively wealthy?

Fourth, what can this controversy teach us about law and discretion? For example, why were the boys released prior to a probable cause hearing? Do legal protections for violent suspects make sense? Would the two have been released if they were black and poor and the victim was white?

Closer to home, to what extent did the law direct school officials? Why did the law force Brookline to admit the teens after Canton suspended them? And when Weintraub suspended them, was the law the reason, or simply the excuse?

If the two boys are acquitted -- found not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt -- but many people still think them guilty, should BHS let them return?

It's easy to ask questions. I'd like our students to mull over possible answers. That's not disruptive to education.

That is education.


1999 column on high school rape

Note: this version may differ from the published version.

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