Sexual predators aided, abetted by wink and leer

MICHAEL OLESKER

April 27, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

I have a question for Judge Tom Bollinger, but his secretary says he's no longer talking. Bollinger's the Baltimore County judge who handed out probation before judgment last week in a rape case and thus put himself in front of a verbal firing squad. Yesterday morning, he sends out word that he's tired of taking shots.

I have a question for Ronald Walter Price, too, but his lawyer says forget it. Price is the Anne Arundel County teacher and coach who's admitted to having sex with a bunch of his underage students. Yesterday, one of his attorneys says Price will not talk to reporters -- unless, of course, you consider Geraldo Rivera a reporter, or those folks from the aptly named ''A Current Affair.'' For television cameras, this Price is right.

Same with those highly publicized California kids, who've admitted having sex with girls not merely for the sex, but to keep score against each other. Do we vilify them? Yeah, sure, in between national television appearances. And those gallant Navy men from the Tailhook convention -- scores of officers who assumed they'd never get in trouble because their sexual abusiveness, if discovered at all, would simply be deemed a sort of frisky, good-natured masculine ritual.

And then there are those Neanderthals from New Jersey, the former high school football players finally found guilty of sexually assaulting a retarded schoolmate four years ago. They used a broomstick and a baseball bat. The judge used a feather. He said they could serve time in a campus-like complex for youthful offenders, for brief periods, and they're free on bail until their appeals are exhausted. That could take years.

Is there a pattern here, or just bizarre coincidence? Justice becomes a leer and a wink. In Baltimore County, 44-year-old Lawrence Gillette found an 18-year-old girl in his bed who'd passed out from drinking. ''The dream of a lot of males,'' Judge Bollinger noted in court. Beg pardon?

Meanwhile, Northeast High School's Ronald Walter Price tells TV people he never meant to hurt any of those underage girls, it was just his addiction. This is the modern defense: Don't blame me, blame my sickness. It's not my fault, it's society's.

Price tells ''A Current Affair'' he went into counseling, but had to quit because it conflicted with softball practice. One of his attorneys, Jonathan Resnick, yesterday lamented that Price's taped appearance on ''Geraldo'' had to be cut short.

''Because of what happened in Waco,'' he says. ''Well, it's the biggest news story in the country, so I guess it's understandable.''

Resnick says his client's getting a bad deal -- from the courts, and from reporters. That's why he went on those television shows, hoping to state his case without interference. But it didn't work out entirely well, so now Price is keeping mum.

Too bad. The question I had for him is the same one I had for Judge Bollinger. It's about loopholes. Price's loophole is his self-described addiction to young girls. Bollinger's was a legal loophole.

Here's the question: If it was your daughter who'd been victimized, would there still be loopholes?

''Where are the responsible people we invest our trust in?'' Carol Burke was asking yesterday. ''Where is the judge when we need to be judged? That gang of teens in California, all those Navy officers . . .''

Burke knows a bit about the Navy. Now an associate dean at Johns Hopkins University, she taught at the U.S. Naval Academy for several years, found sexism rampant and appalling, and wrote a blistering account last summer in The New Republic.

The Navy's response was less a defense than a shrug of the shoulders, a gesture that none of this behavior was officially condoned.

''The fighter-pilot ethos,'' Burke calls it. ''The macho mystique. Nobody ever talks about who gets humiliated in the process.''

Nobody in charge, anyway. Loopholes are found, legal and otherwise. The country talks a good game about sexism, until we get down to specifics. Then we talk loopholes: those New Jersey fellows with the retarded girl, come on, they're all from such nice families. The Navy guys? Just blowing off steam.

Or we put the defendants on television. They get to declare their own victimization, and we get to be titillated. Unless, of course, we remember it's somebody's daughter we're talking about. And then we get to be furious.

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