Blind Eye to Bullies, Victims

By Rod Dreher
July 30, 2008,0,4517782,print.story

The eighth-grade thugs would pin younger boys to the ground in the locker room. The ringleader would put his fist into a plastic cone and try to shove it into his victims' rectums. His pack stood around and moaned to torment the weaker kids.

This went on almost daily, says one seventh-grader who saw it go down. "We're going to rape you," the bullies would say to the little guys. A Sheriff's Department investigation found that the gang of older boys had sexually terrorized seventh-grade boys at Sunnyvale Middle School near Dallas for most of a year.

School officials say they had no idea, and maybe they didn't. Let's hope the Dallas County district attorney puts these punks on trial, so the full story of what happened in Sunnyvale can come to light.

And if it emerges that school officials knew more about the culture of bullying at the school than they've indicated, then, by God, make them answer for it. I find it hard to believe that these assaults happened for a year and nobody in authority suspected there was a problem.

A letter the Sunnyvale School District just mailed to town residents says the former principal's initial investigation "appears to have substantially understated the situation."

Why? And why did some parents feel they had to go to the Sheriff's Department for justice? Why did simulated gang rape at the hands of athletes happen 20 feet from the coaches' offices, with the coaches hearing no evil?

"My son said, 'Mom, (victims) were screaming bloody murder. I don't know how they couldn't have heard them,'" the mother of one abused child told me.

Where were the adults? Were they innocent in their ignorance, kept in the dark by a middle-school code of omerta?

I was 14 when it happened to me on a school trip, chaperoned by two classmates' mothers. Some older boys decided to make an example of me to impress the girls. They jumped me in a hotel room, pinned me down and tried to take my pants off.

I kicked and screamed and pleaded. The two moms literally stepped over me, despite my begging them not to leave, and shut the door behind them. Somehow, I wriggled free and ran off without having had my trousers removed.

That incident set the stage for two years of petty schoolyard harassment that only stopped when I moved to another town and another school. "Normal" bullying, to adult eyes, I suspect. Fear, intimidation, frequent humiliation — no, this wasn't normal to me or to their other victims. That was 25 years ago; I still wonder if I've gotten over it.

My bullies were the cool kids. A sociopathic girl from a nice family was the ringleader, the queen bee of her preppie set atop our school's hierarchy. How often do adults in authority fail to see or to act against bullies, because it would cost them too much, socially or psychologically, to put a stop to it? How much of not seeing is willful blindness?

What happened to me was nothing compared with what was done to those boys at Sunnyvale, yet it directed the rest of my life. I left my hometown — ran away, really — and couldn't stand to look back. Broke my mom and dad's heart.

Years later, when my own heart was broken by the systematic protection of sexual criminals by the Roman Catholic Church, I thrashed around, pinned by rage and panic over what pervert priests had done to children and what bishops who knew better allowed to go unpunished. I left my church to escape the pain like a wild animal chews off its leg to get out of a trap.

The anger that wrecked my faith didn't start with news stories of clerical sex abuse I read. It started the summer before eighth grade, on a hotel room floor. What happened in the Sunnyvale locker room won't stay there. Those brutalized boys will live with it the rest of their lives. So should the adults who failed them.


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