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Lefkowitz's sweeping narrative, informed by more than 200 interviews and six years of research, recreates a murky adolescent world that parents didn't—or wouldn't—see: a high school dominated by a band of predatory athletes; a teenage culture where girls were frequently abused and humiliated at sybaritic and destructive parties, and a town that continued to embrace its celebrity athletes—despite the havoc they created—as "our guys." But that was not only true of Glen Ridge; Lefkowitz found that the unqualified adulation the athletes received in their town was echoed in communities throughout the nation. Glen Ridge was not an aberration. The clash of cultures and values that divided Glen Ridge, Lefkowitz writes, still divides the country.
Parents, teachers, and anyone concerned with how children are raised, how their characters are formed, how boys and girls learn to treat each other, will want to read this important book.
Edgar-winning author Lefkowitz ("Tough Change: Growing Up on Your Own In America", 1987, etc.) began his research by attending the graduation ceremonies of Glen Ridge's class of 1989, which included four young men who had recently been arrested on rape charges. At post-graduation parties the men were greeted, according to Lefkowitz, "like returning warriors . . . martyred heros." Not present was the young woman, known to her many of her violators since kindergarten. She had been lured into a basement where, among other acts of violence, a a baseball bat was inserted into her vagina. Although only four men were ultimately tried for the crime, at least nine others were present during some part of the assault. The girl, threatened with retaliation if she told, was slow to reveal the story. It was three months before it began to leak out to authorities. Lefkowitz wondered why and has put together a frightening story of an insular and prosperous town that honored achievement—including the achievement of its successful adolescent male athletes—above almost everything. Adolescent women were considered inferior and, more particularly, as rewards reserved by right for the football stars. The Glen Ridge rapists, who already had a long history of aberrant behavior (including masturbating in class), were just such stars, and the town rallied blindly to support and protect them, first by denying that the crime had hjappened and then by circulating a blame-the- victim, boys-will-be-boys defense. The young men who were convicted of rape are still free on bail pending an appeal.
A shocking and horrifying example of cultural dysfunction that, the author asserts, is not limited to Glen Ridge.
Ros Faber didn't want to fret about her daughter, but she felt that familiar sense of uneasiness tug at her as she saw Leslie running down the steps in her sweats. She's home from school ten minutes and she's leaving already, Ros thought.
"Where are you going, Les?" Ros asked.
"Shoot some hoops at the park," Leslie said without stopping as she detoured into the kitchen.
Ros watched her gulp down a glass of milk. She hesitated and finally said, "You know, if you're going to be late, you must call." Leslie was expected home at 5:30 on weekdays. That would give her time to help set the table for dinner.
"Don't worry," Leslie replied impatiently. She was seventeen, and she didn't want to be treated like a little kid. "You know I always get back on time."
Carrying her basketball and portable radio, Leslie opened the front door and started down the pathway to the street. "Bye," Ros called after her, trying hard to sound casual.
It was never easy for Rosalind to let her daughter go out alone. Leslie Faber was retarded.
To someone who didn't know her well, Leslie might appear almost normal: a friendly, outgoing teenager who loved sports. But Ros knew that Leslie's condition had left her impaired in a way that wasn't always visible. A lot of what people said in seemingly straightforward conversations went over her head and she was extraordinarily susceptible to suggestion and manipulation by anyone who seemed to like her.
In a big city, Ros thought, Leslie would have been vulnerable to the predatory stranger. But in 1989 Glen Ridge, New Jersey, retained thegentility of a more tranquil age; it remained a small, picture-perfect suburb where almost everyone knew everyone else. And that's what reassured Ros Faber. Today Leslie would be shooting baskets in the middle of the afternoon in a community playground that was a five-minute walk from her house. She had played in this park all her life. The other neighborhood children knew her well. They all came from respectable, well-off families like the Fabers themselves. The homes of many of the Fabers' friends were nearby. Strangers rarely passed through the sheltered streets of Glen Ridge. What could be safer than a couple of hours of healthy recreation in Cartaret Park?
The Fabers had moved to Glen Ridge fifteen years before and had never regretted it. When they learned that Leslie was retarded, it comforted them to know that they lived in the sort of place where the strong didn't prey on the weak. For Leslie needed protection, and the cruel streets of the city could inflict terrible injuries on a defenseless child. The Fabers believed that raising their daughter in Glen Ridge would keep her out of harm's way.
It was, in fact, just the sort of lovely, peaceful suburb many Americans dream about but few can afford. Many of the houses were neat and spacious, the streets were immaculate and picturesque, the schools were good, and the values of the community, Glen Ridgers would say with pride, were solidly planted in family, country, and the free enterprise system. On days when the urban swirl seemed overwhelming, Glen Ridge was the kind of place a New Yorker dreamed of escaping to.
Only 7,800 people lived in Glen Ridge. It was the second-smallest municipality in populous Essex County, consisting of just 1.3 square miles, and you could drive from one end to the other in five minutes. Set at the crest of a gentle slope rising from Newark Bay, the town seemed little changed in 1989 from when it was created in 1895. For the people who lived there, Glen Ridge remained a secure retreat in a contentious world.
A teenager walking the cobblestoned, leafy streets of Glen Ridge couldn't help feeling secure. Tranquility was so highly valued that the entire commercial life was limited to a couple of small stores housed in a single building near the commuter rail station. Indeed, when kids complained that it was boring to live in such a small, unexciting town, parents were quick to tell them that it was precisely the pastoral peacefulness of the suburb that made it a perfect place to raise children.
With her usual exuberance, Leslie trotted the short distance to the park. She was tall for her age, broad-shouldered, and somewhat overweight. Leslie was dressed in her play clothes: a West Orange High School shirt, purple sweatpants, and red-and-white sneakers. She was very proud of the radio she carried. It was about a foot and a half long, with speakers at each end. What made it special was its color—pink. It was a pretty radio, a feminine radio. That's why she had bought it. It was important to her because she had paid for it with her own money that she had earned mowing the lawn and raking leaves for her parents. She had plunked down the $35—her savings—at Crazy Eddie's about a year and a half ago; since then, the pink radio had been her constant companion whenever she went out to play.
Her walk to the park took her along Linden Avenue past the elementary school she had attended through the fourth grade. She walked one long block and turned left onto Cartaret Street, where she entered the playground. She had taken the same walk hundreds of times in her life.
Today the weather was cool and blustery, typical of the first day of March. The park was rectangular, about three hundred feet in length. Leslie headed for the basketball court in the southwest corner. She would remember later that as she walked toward the court, she noticed a stick in the grass. It was about a foot long, smeared with mud and flecked with red paint. She picked it up and threw it a few feet away. It was nicely balanced and carried well. She thought it would make a good "throwing stick" and decided to keep it.
Directly parallel to the basketball court, on the northwest side, was the softball diamond. At the other end of the park, the southeast corner, was the baseball diamond. Six rows of wooden bleachers, where spectators sat during Little League games, looked down on the first-base line.
At the baseball diamond a bunch of high school guys had formed two lines. The boys wore baseball gloves and cleats and trailed baseball bats behind them. Leslie, who was so devoted to athletics that she divided the year by the different sports seasons, knew what was going on. The guys on Glen Ridge's championship baseball team were going to have a preseason practice session, an easy drill without any adult coaches around. Loosen up, look sharp. The stars of the high school's other big-time teams, the wrestlers and the football players, also were there, hanging out, checking out the scene. This was very cool, Leslie thought. When she had left her house a few minutes before, who would have guessed that she was headed for jock heaven?
In a bigger town or in a city, most of these guys would be considered average athletes at best. But in the insulated world of Glen Ridge, they were the princes of the playing field. And that was the only world Leslie had ever known. These were the guys who acted as if they owned the high-school. More than once, Leslie overheard girls saying they'd just die the jocks didn't invite them to their parties.
It was a tough call to pick out the leader among all these handsome popular guys, but Leslie guessed that it was Kyle Scherzer, although He wasn't her personal, true fave. Kyle, everybody said, would probably be picked as the best athlete in the senior class. Kyle was captain of baseball team. He and his twin brother, Kevin, were co-captains of the football team. The Scherzers lived at 34 Lorraine Street, a white shingled house adjoining the park. From their backyard it was just a step onto the grass of Cartaret. Now, as she stood on the basketball court, Leslie could see Kyle on the back deck of his house, surveying the park as though it were his private kingdom.
Leslie knew that the deck was a pretty special place, although she had never stood on it herself. In whispers interspersed with giggles, her teammates on the girls' basketball and softball teams had explained the significance of being invited to a party on the Scherzers' deck.
For years now, Kyle and Kevin had invited their friends to deck parties after long afternoons of sports. Within the closed circle of jocks their spontaneous parties were famous. This was the closest thing the jocks had to a frat house. Here on the deck the guys celebrated a football or baseball victory, cooled out after a tough practice, or just gathered to goof around. Mostly, it was just the guys, but every once in a while one of the girls who trailed after the jocks would be admitted. The menu was usually soda and potato chips; occasionally, when no adults were around, there would be a few cans of beer. When the weather was cold or nasty, the guys would retreat downstairs to the Scherzers' semifinished basement to watch television or play Nintendo.
Leslie understood: If you got invited, it showed that you belonged. You were part of the gang. You counted. The teenage heroes of the town thought you were worthy of their attention. This honor had never been bestowed on Leslie. It wasn't because she was a newcomer to Cartaret or one of those kids who paid tuition to the high school and lived out of town. No, Leslie was as much a fixture in the park and in the town as the Scherzers.
She pitched for the girls' softball team and played guard for the high school girls' basketball team. She sold Girl Scout cookies door to door. In the spring she was there for the Memorial Day parade and in the winter she was there for the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. At all times of the year, except when the snow got too deep, she could be seen riding around town on her bike, her brown hair blowing back from her forehead, her shoulders hunched over the handlebars, a big smile brightening her face as she called out "Hi" to all the people she knew and to people she knew not at all.
That was Leslie's special attribute: her buoyant personality. "If you smiled at her, she'd give you the world," said Christine Middleton, who was Leslie's teammate on the basketball team. "All she ever wanted was to be accepted by the other kids, to be part of the gang. And the kids she always admired the most, because she herself was good at sports, were the jocks. She'd see the other girls mooning after them and she'd want to do that, too."
Although she traveled freely throughout the small community, her most frequent destination was Cartaret Park. From the time she was a toddler, Leslie had watched the boys of Cartaret grow up. As a child, Leslie had lived near the eastern boundary of the playground. Then when she was in middle school, her mom and dad moved to their current house a few blocks away.
When Leslie was very young, Rosalind would bring her to the shady incline at the western end of the park where all the other mothers gathered with their babies and preschoolers. Rosalind would push her daughter on the yellow and red swings or watch her clamber in the miniature playhouse constructed of logs.
From Leslie's earliest memories, the Scherzer twins were always around. Whenever she was playing, they were playing. Whenever she was just a kid, not a dutiful daughter or an obedient student, the Scherzers were also being kids. Leslie was generally accurate when she later said of Kyle and Kevin, "I knew them all my life." She knew them, but only from afar. Leslie and the boys had followed separate paths through childhood and adolescence—Leslie friendless and alone, the boys clustered in the most envied and admired teenage clique in the town. Up to that moment, their lives had never converged.
Today didn't seem any different from most of the days of her youth. She played by herself on the basketball court, firing up some three-point bombs from behind the foul circle. Then, avoiding the puddles caused by last night's rain, she practiced her drives to the basket, shooting left-handed and right-handed, just like the pros.
A hundred feet away, the elite teenagers of Glen Ridge reveled in their male camaraderie. How many afternoons had she ended, from her vantage point under the backboards or in the top row of the wooden bleachers, watching Kyle and Kevin and their friends trooping happily toward the Scherzer house? But she was never included in that group. Look at it the way the guys did: If you invited a cute cheerleader, that boosted your romantic reputation. If you invited a not-so-cute brain, that might at least help you pass history and stay academically eligible for athletics. But what was the advantage of befriending a plain-looking retarded girl?
Sure, she played on teams, but she wasn't any star. Sure, she'd been hanging around for a lot of years, but she wasn't part of any popular group in school. In fact, she didn't even go to school in Glen Ridge anymore. The district had transferred her out to West Orange, where she attended a class for retarded kids. No matter how cheerful and friendly she was, no matter how desperately she yearned for one sign of recognition from her heroes, Leslie Faber could never expect to break through this invisible wall that separated her from the coolest kids in the school. She could never imagine being invited to one of the famous parties given by the Scherzer twins. No way. "Up until that day, I was never invited to a party at the Scherzer house," Leslie Faber would say later.
During the next half hour the baseball players rapped grounders, pegged bullets at each other, and chased down fly balls. The guys who were on other teams stood nearby in small groups, laughing, jostling each other, throwing mock punches. Guy stuff. They didn't seem to pay any attention to the young woman who was faking out an imaginary Michael Jordan over on the basketball court.
The few patches of blue were obscured by thick gray clouds, the wind picked up, and it looked as if it could rain again. The practice was breaking up. A bunch of the baseball players began walking in the direction of the Scherzers' house. Today was a good day to party. The twins' parents were in Florida all week. Aside from an elderly grandmother, the boys had the run of the house.
From the corner of her eye, Leslie could see five or six of the other boys, who weren't on the baseball team, walking toward the basketball court.
They stopped a few feet away, waving, smiling, all part of one happy group. The one boy who kept coming toward her was Christopher Archer.
Of all the kids who played at Cartaret, Leslie Faber probably knew Chris Archer and his brother, Paul, best. Leslie's parents were friends of the Archers' parents. Leslie would visit, sometimes unannounced, at their house down on lower Ridgewood Avenue. She would stay a while and talk with Chris and Paul when she was selling her Girl Scout cookies door to door.
Although she hadn't spent a huge amount of time with them when she was growing up, she had learned that there was a big difference between the two brothers. Paul had a kind smile and gentle, almost mournful, eyes. Eyes that melted you. He was a reasonably good football player and a captain of the wrestling team. And he was very good-looking. With all that, you might think he'd act stuck-up. But sometimes he'd talk to her, mostly about sports, and treat her just like any other girl in town. A few times he could be mean, but mostly he was nice. Paul was a really "cool guy." Chris, who was a year younger than Paul, had steel-cold eyes that always seemed to be looking beyond her. He almost never asked her about her basketball and softball, and he always had that sly grin on his face when he was making conversation with her.
Of the two, she liked Paul better, but it was important for her to please Chris; he might tell Paul she was nice. Chris was her link, her connection to Paul. Leslie never tried to hide her feelings about Paul. "I really liked him," she said later. "He's cute. He's handsome. He was my hero."
Chris chatted her up, his big smile radiating high spirits and camaraderie. He said to her, C'mon over to the Scherzer house, the guys just want to talk to you. C'mon over, we're all going to have a party.
Leslie considered this sudden invitation to attend a party with the most popular guys in town. Then she decided it wasn't such a good idea. No, I don't want to, Leslie said. Chris's invitation raised a question in her mind. Why would they want to take me down to the basement when they always called me retarded?
Chris, never at a loss for a new ploy, kept trying. "He said that his brother, Paul, was there," Leslie remembered later. "Chris told me that Paul would go out with me. I like Paul. So I went with Chris."
Gathering up her belongings—the stick, the radio, and her basketball—Leslie set out on the three-minute walk to the house. On the way to her "date" with Paul, Chris "walked with me, and put his arm around me," Leslie said. "He was like really romantic." When she was asked how Chris made her feel as he accompanied her to the Scherzer house, she replied: "Wonderful."
They passed the rear of the Scherzer house. The molded plastic chairs were stacked in one corner of the redwood deck next to a pile of tie-on canvas seat covers. The beach umbrella had been removed from its hole in the round picnic table and propped against a railing. It was too chilly on the first of March to hold an outside deck party; it would have to be in the semifinished basement.
A group of boys entered 34 Lorraine Street first. Trailing behind them were Chris and Leslie. Chris opened the door to the front entrance of the house. Leslie could feel his hand on her back, prodding gently but insistently. In the hall, just beyond the door, pegs had been set in the wall. The boys took off their red-and-white varsity jackets and hung them on the pegs. What a rush! Leslie could hang her own jacket on a peg, just as if she were also part of the team, just as if she were one of the pretty, effervescent girls who were always hanging around the jocks.
Chris led her forward, toward the stairs to the basement. On the way, she glanced into the kitchen, where she thought she saw the figure of an elderly woman.
Chris guided her down the stairs, past the younger kids who were clustered on the steps. As she reached the bottom, Leslie had a view of the entire basement. This was it: She had arrived. She was entering into the boys' special place, the "clubhouse" of the stars of Glen Ridge.
The room she entered now had a musty, wintry feel. It was lighted by a dim overhead bulb, turning ruddy outdoor complexions into gray pallor. The athletic trophies awarded over the years to Kyle and Kevin and their two older brothers were displayed on wall shelves, along with family photographs. One wall was unfinished, consisting of whitewashed concrete. Leslie would remember that three concrete blocks were piled near the wall. A sofa in the middle of the room could comfortably seat three. An area rug had been placed near the sofa. From the sofa you had a good view of a big-screen television. You could also watch TV from a wooden bench and maybe a half-dozen folding chairs. The entire basement was twenty-seven feet long and nineteen feet wide. There was only one exit, the steps to the front door.
In one alcove there was a refrigerator. Up against the wall, near the refrigerator, was a broom. Leslie, with her excellent memory for details, never forgot the color of the broomstick. She would always remember that it was "fire-engine red." In the back end of the basement, leading to the deck, the room was L-shaped. This area contained a bar, with three or four bar stools. There was a shelf at this end, and under it was a jumble of athletic equipment: basketballs, gloves, and baseballs and bats. Quite a few bats, including even a fungo bat used for practice. From her many years of playing softball, Leslie knew all about fungo bats: they were slightly narrower than a regular bat, but close to regulation-length.
Leslie would later remember that lots of boys were milling about in the basement. When she arrived, five of them, all seniors, were already down there. Among them was the one she adored—Paul Archer. Others joined them, including sophomore and senior baseball players and, of course, one junior, her friend Chris Archer. Some of them sat down or stood on the stairs.
The big attraction in the Scherzer basement in the winter and spring of 1989 was the Nintendo game, which at that time was still something of a novelty. Leslie could see a couple of the boys huddled around it.
Leslie also saw some of the boys arranging folding chairs in front of the couch. To her, it looked like they were getting ready to "watch a movie." A movie in which she was the star.
Chris leads her to the sofa where another senior heartthrob, Bryant Grober, is sitting. Leslie doesn't know him as well as she knows the Archers and Kyle and Kevin, because he lives on the other end of town and went to a different elementary school than she did. He comes to the park from way over on Forest Avenue and he isn't around all that much. She has seen Bryant play football, and she sometimes passes him in the corridors when she goes to Glen Ridge High School for basketball practice. She knows he is popular with the guys. She knows the girls think he is really cute. Sit here, Chris says, the idea man, handing her over to Bryant.
There is the hum of pleasantries exchanged in the basement.
Leslie, how's the basketball team doing?
Leslie, you gonna pitch again for the softball team?
But mostly the boys are talking to each other, chattering excitedly, like a group of kids rehearsing a student play.
After a while, Leslie hears the sound of footsteps on the stairs. She sees the adult she only glimpsed when she came into the house. The boys are saying, That's Kyle and Kevin's grandmother. She will always remember the old woman on the stairs—the presence of an adult makes the party seem normal just before it lurches out of control.
The woman, Leslie notices, has "white hair, sort of going bald." She is skinny and has a cane—"a silver metal cane with a green handle." This elderly woman, leaning heavily on her cane, walks halfway down the flight of steps. She calls out, "Kevin, you have a phone call." Kevin bounds up the steps, passing his grandmother, and disappears into the kitchen to take his call. This reassures Leslie: The boys wouldn't do something really bad, would they, knowing that the Scherzer twins' grandmother was bustling about in the kitchen right above them?
The kids are talking, but talking rather softly. For so many kids in a relatively small space, it is surprisingly quiet. Phil Grant, a senior baseball player, feels a hushed, expectant weight in the room, like the heavy silence before a storm.
Another boy, a fifteen-year-old sophomore, watches Chris Archer leaning over and whispering to Leslie. He sees Leslie sitting in the middle of the couch, Bryant on her right. Bryant pulls off his pants and then his underpants. The sophomore can't hear what Chris is saying to Leslie, but he can see what's going on. The sophomore looks into Leslie's eyes and sees what the others can't or won't see. He sees puzzlement and confusion and skepticism.
Now they have all taken their places—thirteen young men, the pride of Glen Ridge High, and Leslie. Some of the boys are seated on the folding chairs, a few feet away from the sofa. Others are standing to the side and behind the chairs. A few kids are watching from the stairs. For the moment Paul Archer is silent; he doesn't seem to be in any rush to ask Leslie out. Kyle is standing near the line of folding chairs. Kevin, who has returned to the basement after taking his phone call, is sitting on one of the chairs.
As Leslie begins to pull up her shirt, the sophomore who has seen puzzlement and confusion in Leslie's eyes turns to another of the underclassmen and says, "Let's get out of here." They leave together.
Phil Grant, the senior baseball player, also feels queasy as Leslie begins to disrobe. He is thinking, I don't belong here, it's just too weird. Phil exchanges looks with a buddy of his, another senior baseball player. They both start up the stairs together. Then Phil stops and turns and says to his childhood friend Paul Archer, "It's wrong. C'mon with me."
Archer says nothing in reply. He stays where he is, with his brother and his buddies.
At the top of the stairs, Phil hears somebody shouting, "Don't go. Don't miss this." Even though what his friends are doing makes him uncomfortable, he feels obliged to offer an excuse. "I got to go home," he says. "Seeya later."
Six young men have left. Seven young men, six seniors and junior Chris Archer, will remain in the basement with Leslie until they are done with her.
Yes, it is "just like a movie"—she attracting all the attention, the boys staring at her from their chairs, the other boys peering down at her from the stairs. But, as in all memorable movies, certain scenes would stand out. Things she heard, things people did—images that would stay with her no matter how many times she was later questioned by the police, by investigators, by psychiatrists and psychologists, by grand jurors and prosecutors and defense lawyers. Some of what Leslie remembers:
The boys getting up from their chairs, crowding around the sofa, a circle of flushed, excited faces urging her, Go further, go further!
Phil and his friend and the younger kids leaving without saying a word to her.
Leslie left alone with the inner circle of jocks: Kyle and Kevin, Bryant Grober, Paul and Chris Archer, and two of their friends and teammates, Peter Quigley and Richard Corcoran.
Leslie feels a hand on her head. There is a penis in her mouth.
Leslie hears another boy shout, You whore!
The boys are laughing, snickering. How does it feel? a boy asks. Does it make you feel good?
Leslie hears the voice say, Let's play a joke on her.
A neighborhood boy, a boy she has known all her life, is walking toward the 'fridge, reaching for the broom with the bright-red handle.
A boy walks to the back of the basement, fishes through the pile of sports equipment, pulls out a bat.
A voice says, Stop. You're hurting her.
Another voice says, Do it more.
Leslie remembers: Everyone was laughing. I was crying to myself, but I had tears coming out of my eyes.
Leslie remembers: The boys say to her that this all must be our secret. We'll be mad at you if you talk about this, you'll get kicked out of your school, we'll tell your mother if you break our secret.
Then, all in a circle, they clasp one hand on top of the other, all their hands together, like a basketball team on the sidelines at the end of a timeout. Leslie would say: It was just like one-two-three win!
A voice announces: We're not going to tell anybody. This is our little secret.
A voice says to Leslie: Hurry up. Go. Get out of here.
After Leslie left the basement, she waited a while outside the Scherzer house. Then she went into the park. She waited there, walking back and forth between the baseball diamond and the basketball court. She waited and waited for Paul Archer, her dream date, to show up. But he never did.
She walked a few blocks into Bloomfield to visit one of her few friends, Jennifer Lipinski. "She always stuck up for me," Leslie would say later. "I wanted to discuss with her what happened to me." But it was already late in the afternoon, long after she was expected at Jennifer's house. Jennifer had left, so Leslie spent a little time playing ball with Jennifer's brother. Then she went home.
Rosalind Faber was not pleased with her daughter. She had expected Leslie to be home by 5:30. Leslie knew she was supposed to set the table for dinner. That was her one daily chore. Routine provided continuity and structure for Leslie. But the table was not set and Ros's daughter was not there. 6:30. 6:45. Rosalind was getting nervous. It was dark outside. Where was Leslie?
When Leslie showed up at 7 o'clock, her mother did not try to hide her disapproval. "Where were you?" she asked, each word coated with ice. "Why didn't you call?"
"I was at the park, playing basketball," Leslie mumbled.
"I was worried."
"I'm okay," she said, looking down at the floor.
Glancing at the stick Leslie was holding, her mother asked, "What's that?"
"Oh, it's just a stick I found in the park," Leslie said.
"It's dirty. Why don't you put it in the garbage!"
"No, I want to keep it. It's good for throwing."
Rosalind took the stick from her. "All right, I'll keep it for you," she said. She put the stick on the top of the refrigerator, out of sight.
"I'm going up to change my clothes," Leslie said, starting up the stairs.
"I don't want you to do this again," her mother called after her. "You know it upsets me when you're not home when you're supposed to be."
Leslie, already upstairs, already going into her room, didn't answer.
At the dinner table, Leslie appeared distracted and withdrawn. She ate quickly and did not volunteer any information about her day. Her behavior made her parents uneasy. Leslie did not usually start a conversation, but she did join in when her mother and father initiated a discussion. Tonight she was quiet.
Charles Faber, who was a manager at a large corporation, knew how to draw people out, to find out what was bothering them. But with Leslie he was running into a wall.
"Leslie, what's wrong? Is anything bothering you?"
"Nothing," she said. "I don't know ... Nothing's wrong."
Something's not right, Rosalind was thinking. She's trying to send us a signal, Charles was thinking, but what signal? The Fabers knew from experience that when Leslie didn't want to talk about a subject or when she was hiding something, it was not productive to push her. You had to wait for her to open up and then you asked a specific question. If you tried to press her, she would go silent on you or lapse into vagueness: Well, gee, I don't know ...
Rosalind tried one more time. "Did you run into anybody at the park?"
Her response was sharp. "Why do you want to know?"
"I'm just asking, Leslie. Well, did you?"
When they finished dinner, Leslie gathered up the dishes. Then she went into the living room to watch a rerun of "Gilligan's Island," her favorite TV show. After a while, Leslie said she was tired and went upstairs to get ready to go to bed.
At about 3 A.M. her parents heard Leslie talking in her sleep. Their bedroom was next door to Leslie's and the sounds could be heard through the wall. Words. Then what sounded like a muffled cry or gasp. They knew that when something disturbed Leslie, she would talk in her sleep. But she didn't often cry.
They got up and quietly walked into her room. They tried to make out what she was saying, but the words were indistinct. She was squirming in the bed—and groaning. Rosalind didn't want to wake her, but she was so concerned that she couldn't stop herself.
She shook Leslie. "Les, you're talking in your sleep. What's wrong?"
Leslie rubbed her eyes. "Nothing," she said. "Nothing's wrong."
Back in their bedroom, Charles Faber looked at his wife and said: "Something's happened."
That morning Rosalind tried to probe gently. "Leslie, you really had a restless night last night. Is everything okay? What were you talking about in your sleep?"
Leslie answered much as she had at dinner. "I don't remember.... Everything's okay.... I'm fine."
Months later she would recall that night after she came home from the Scherzers' basement and say, "I was embarrassed. I was too scared to tell my parents. They wouldn't understand."
|PART I The Basement||9|
|PART II Secrets||35|
|PART III All-American Guys||103|
|PART IV Accusation and Denial||183|
|PART V Justice and Injustice||257|
|PART VI Moral Judgments||295|
|Illustrations follow||page 94|
On Friday, May 8, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Bernard Lefkowitz, author of OUR GUYS.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I am doing fine, and I am glad to be here.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Well, I think it works on both levels. I felt that athletes in Glen Ridge have been elevated to a status that they don't deserve. I think it is great that young men participate in sports, but it doesn't mean that we can separate their character from their achievements. I think the boys in Glen Ridge might not have done what they did if their participation in sports had been based on their quality of character. But I also think the book doesn't only look at athletes, rather all sort of groups of young men, like fraternities or schools like the Citadel or working for Wall Street brokerage houses or commanding military bases. Whenever young men feel as though they are above the law, bad things happen.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Part of it was spending time in the town. It took me five years to research the book and another year and a half to write it. I spent a lot of time with the graduating class. I also talked to graduates of the school, and I just spent a lot of time with the families of the town. I felt when you went to talk to young men and women, they were eager to tell you about their high school experience. The sad thing is, they kept it quiet for too long. They didn't think anybody was interested in finding out about them.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Two things interested me when I read about the arrests of five young men in Glen Ridge. One was the presence of so many young men -- 13 high school athletes -- in the basement of the house where this young retarded women with an IQ of 49 was raped. We are talking about 40 to 45 percent of all the boys in the graduating class at Glen Ridge. I learned soon after that more than two dozen boys who attended the school gathered in front of the house and passed around the bat and broomstick. It seemed to me then that it wasn't a couple of guys who went wrong, but this seems to me like it was much larger, something woven into the society of Glen Ridge and woven into society at large. Another thing that interested me was the support that the town gave the young men who were accused of this crime and the criticism and vilification of the young woman who was the victim. They described her as a seductress, a temptress who seduced these 17- and 18-year-old celebrities. I wanted to know why the town felt as it did, and that is what drew me into writing the book.
Bernard Lefkowitz: When you try to write a book, you try to make it as particular as you can. But I think in this case, the story tells itself. And what was that story? It is a story of a group of young men who from elementary school on were allowed to routinely humiliate and abuse girls and young women. They frequently exposed themselves in class, they stole hundreds of dollars from girls they didn't like, they practiced voyeurism and watched girls when they were having sex or going to the bathroom, and they wrecked the homes of girls who didn't show enough submissiveness to them, causing many thousands of dollars in damage. And why were they allowed to do this? Because kids who could throw a touchdown pass were held to a more generous standard than every other kid in school. The town knew what was going on, parents knew what was going on, the school knew what was going on, and nobody really did anything to stop it.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Well, altogether I spoke to about 200 people in Glen Ridge, and then when the case went into the criminal investigation series, I spoke to more. I went back with people to the playgrounds, the school yards, the places where they went to drink beer, the homes of parties, etc. And I tried to get them to refresh their memories. While a lot of people in Glen Ridge weren't happy about my presence, there was also a group who were supportive and eager to help me. I should also say I spent a lot of my adult life writing about adolescents, and I think adolescents really reflect our society. A lot of writers don't take them seriously, but I try to do that.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Well, I should say there were charges that he had sexually assaulted an undergraduate student after he was arrested in the Glen Ridge case. The young woman gave an affidavit to the judge who was hearing the Glen Ridge case. The young woman finally offered to testify during the sentencing of Christopher Archer, but one of the prosecutors decided that to bring her in to testify would muddy the waters. The jury by convicting these defendants had truly ID'd their guilt. Her view was disputed by other prosecutors, but it prevailed, and the young woman was not permitted to testify.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Altogether it took six years, and one of the reasons it took so long was that it took three and half years for the case to come to trial. But also, at the very early stages of my reporting I found that very few adults were eager to speak to me, so I decided that what I would do is travel around the country, flying to those campuses where the 1989 graduates where now going to college. And once I began to talk to them away from their parents and away from Glen Ridge, they had a fascinating story to tell. I also should say that during the pretrial and trial phases of the case, I really hounded the prosecutor, defense lawyers, and others involved in the case, and on all sides people felt there were parts of this case that were historic. It marked a cultural turning point in America, and they were really eager to tell their stories.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I think it reflects an increasing sense that competing and winning is all-important in so many arenas of American life -- academia, college, business -- but I think the crucial thing is, there is so little thought as to how you win. Do you win by violence? Or do you win because you have a great jump shot or you can really make a double play? I think more and more people who pay for sports and who coach athletes emphasize that winning is all that counts. Always think of the young woman who was the victim in this case. She loved sports, she played basketball and baseball, but really what she wanted was just to participate -- it didn't make a difference who won or lost but that everybody had a good time. But sadly that wasn't the view of the guys who ultimately raped her.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Last June three of the four defendants were finally sent to prison -- eight years after the rape was committed, and four years after they were convicted. The judge had freed them on bail, even though they were found guilty on rape charges. A fourth defendant found guilty, Brian Grover, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit rape, and he was given a suspended sentence and hours of community service by the extremely generous judge. Last June, when the three defendants where sent to prison, two of them could be out of prison in as soon as two years, depending on their behavior. A third defendant, Kyle, will only serve from ten months to a year. All of the three are doing time in what is often described as a country club prison in the mountains of New Jersey, where they are working as librarians in the prison camp. The leniency of the judge in this case had made many women believe that the criminal justice system doesn't treat sexual violence as seriously as other violent crimes.
Bernard Lefkowitz: There were always a core of people who were really determined that the truth would come out, but lots of people hated the idea that I was going to write about their town and this case. I would go out for interviews and somebody would look through the window and they would slam the door in my face. When I went to interview a teacher, the principal expelled me from the school. There was a feeling that the secrets of the town should be kept secret. This is sad, because for so long the complaints and protests of young women in the town, about how they were being treated, went unheeded by the school, the police, and other institutions that served youngsters. The tragedy that befell the victim was terrible, but it shouldn't be forgotten that lots of other women suffered from these guys for many years because people refused to take their complaints seriously.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Well, I consider myself to be a reporter who writes about social issues -- how young people are raised in America. I don't think that this is a story that needs a label, written by a feminist or nonfeminist. It is a story about how we live and how we raise our children. If people draw broader conclusions about how young men are taught to treat women, I think that is a good thing. Last week's Sports Illustrated devoted its cover story to how famous athletes have fathered so many illegitimate children with little thought of the welfare of the women or children -- one more indicator that we really need to take a second look at how athletes are raised and educated.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Great question! I found it appalling as well. Two days after the victim was raped, she told her swimming teacher at her school about what had happened. The teacher reported it to other school officials. At the same time, one of the few black students told his teacher about the rumors he had heard about a sexual assault on a retarded young woman. Despite this, it took three and a half weeks before anybody called the police. First the school was eager to avoid any scandal; second, they were concerned about the town's reaction if the athletes in the school were punished and tried. They instinctually understood that they would review how women had been treated for a decade or more at the schools of Glen Ridge. I should say that this is not unusual. Schools all over the country are weary about engaging sexual issues that involve their students, but the more they avoid them, the more likely they will recur and the offenses will become more and more serious.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I think the most startling thing is the record of abuse by this favored clique of guys in Glen Ridge throughout their adolescence. I will never forget sitting in a kitchen with three recent graduates of the school and listening to them describing their experiences dating back to elementary school. What was so startling was how toneless their voices were. After so many years of having this go on, without these guys getting punished, they thought this is how girls had to grow up. Submitting to whatever any boy asked of them. Because the school and town treated these guys like heroes, girls got the message that if you were part of this group, that was a good thing. You were part of the social inner circle. You live in New York City, you forget that women are treated not always wonderfully by institutions that should be looking out for them. I must say that as a writer, it really upset me when I learned how these girls and young women were treated.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I have. And I have gone to parties in Glen Ridge celebrating the book and a book signing in Montclair. Basically there have been two reactions 1) People in Glen Ridge are denying that anything bad happened; and 2) most gratifying to me are the letters and phone calls I have received not only from those who graduated in 1989 but from those who graduated 30 years ago and described similar experiences. I felt I was able to provide a voice for all of them. I think that one thing that is notable is this past Halloween, a group of students in Glen Ridge put on an assembly in which young men dressed up as girls and at one point simulated a rape, tearing her clothes off. At this point, a number of the female teachers in the auditorium stood up and left. I know that during the next week there were discussions in classes about what happened. I thought this was reassuring and upsetting. What upset me was that a man thought it was okay to simulate a rape in front of his fellow students, but I was also reassured by the fact that so many teachers stood up in protest and that the school, rather than bury the incident, decided to discuss it. I am also pleased that the school has requested that its teachers read OUR GUYS.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I haven't totally decided on what my next subject would be, but I was thinking about writing on how women are treated and regarded on Wall Street, working on Wall Street.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Well, I bent over in excruciating effort to try to be both fair and accurate, and sometimes I would check a fact with ten different people. When somebody recalled an experience I would always find other sources to confirm it. Whenever a public record was involved, like a police report or school records, I always used them to confirm the accuracy of what people were telling me. But it wasn't so much because of lawsuits, but I was concerned that the larger story could be undermined if the book was regarded as inaccurate, and that would have been a shame.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I think when I started out, there wasn't any question of the morality of what had occurred. A baseball bat and a broomstick had been used to penetrate the body of a young woman with a 49 IQ, a woman that these boys had known all their lives. There was no question of whether this was a moral act, but there was a legitimate debate on whether it was a crime and how serious a crime, and that was because the boys who were involved did not beat up or seriously injure or hold down the victim in this case; the jury had to decide whether she was capable of consenting to such an act and whether the boys involved knew or should have known if she was retarded. I tried to keep myself open about that as the case wound its way through the criminal justice system, and I always tried to be fair in the sense of hearing the stories and listening to those who defended the boys and their behavior. I would have spoken to more if they would have talked to me, but to be honest, when a writer is writing about a terrible injustice, I don't think that the writer is obligated to be objective, no more than writers who are writing about African Americans who were being beaten in the South or Jews who were killed in concentration camps during World War II. I do think that as a journalist and writer, you must keep asking questions and go down a lot of dark alleys until you are convinced that you found the truth.
Bernard Lefkowitz: I think it does, but not only the changing morals of kids but also of their parents. The sad fact is that how these young men behaved was both an echo and reflection of how adults around them behaved. They didn't decide that athletes should be treated as somebody special, their parents and other adults decided that. It was adults who decided they should be allowed to get away with behavior that would have been severely punished if it was committed by other boys. If girls did what these guys did -- exposing themselves in class, wrecking the homes of guys they didn't like, practicing voyeurism -- I am convinced they would have been punished severely. The book sends warnings about how young men are raised and educated and how mass culture affects their values.
Bernard Lefkowitz: Sure. I hope that this book prompts discussion among readers about how both young men and women are being treated. I hope it encourages people to ask questions, I hope it puts pressure on schools to treat both young men and women fairly, and I hope it makes people in the criminal justice system aware that a crime like this can have terrible repercussions, not only for the victim but for many, many other people.
1. One review of Our Guys described the priorities of the community of Glen Ridge as "large, protected homes, easy access to an endless array of consumer goods, and team sports, with education far down the line, except as a means of obtaining the first three" (New York Times Book Review). Is this a fair assessment?
2. How do the jocks classify the girls in their high school class, and what, if anything, do these classifications tell us about the roles of girls and women in this community? Why do the girls put up with the treatment the jocks hand out, even agreeing to call themselves "pigs" to gain admission to jock parties [p. 203]?
3. "The ruling clique of teenagers adhered to a code of behavior that mimicked, distorted and exaggerated the values of the adult world around them" [p. 493]. Does this square with what you have read about the parents of the perpetrators? Does it conform with what you read about the teachers, coaches, and others whose job it is to deal with the youth of Glen Ridge? How does this compare with what is going on in your own community?
4. Lefkowitz believes that the social hierarchy and the social conditioning in Glen Ridge reflects the larger American culture. Do you agree with him? How do the society and the values of Glen Ridge resemble, or differ from, other communities and schools with which you are familiar? Do you agree with Lefkowitz's implication that ours is an essentially unequal culture, where males get more breaks than women do?
5. "Of all the boys charged with sexually assaulting Leslie Faber, only Bryant Grober had sisters. The others grew up in families where males were the dominant personalities" [p.68]. Also, Lefkowitz notes, there were no women in high positions in Glen Ridge High School. What effect might the lack of association between boys and girls have had upon these boys? Do you believe that it is the school's responsibility to ensure that more women have important, responsible, and visible positions within its hierarchy?
6. "Achievement was honored and respected almost to the point of pathology, " said the minister of Glen Ridge Congregational Church, "whether it was the achievements of high school athletes or the achievements of corporate world conquerors" [p. 130]. "Compassion for the weak, " adds Lefkowitz, "wasn't part of the curriculum." Are these traits--the worship of success and a lack of concern for the weak--characteristic of our culture as a whole? Are our major institutions, like the educational system and the press, making any attempt to counterbalance such ideas?
7. In Chapter 16, why did the kids get away with trashing Mary Ryan's house? Why was no legal action taken by the Ryans? Do you think that this sort of incident occurs, and gets covered up, in other towns or cities? What would have happened to these boys if they had been less affluent--or if they had not been white?
8. According to a national survey in 1993, 81 percent of female public school students said they had been sexually harassed in school; only 7 percent of those harassed told a teacher about it [p. 92]. Why do you think so few girls inform their teachers? Are they afraid of retaliation or of publicity? Do you believe that such fears are justified? What effect might the experiences of Leslie Faber or that of the Central Park jogger (whose story was in the news for months) at the hands of lawyers and media have on a woman who is wondering whether to report a rape?
9. "The guys prized their intimacy with each other far above what could be achieved with a girl" [p. 146]. What does sex represent for the boys in this jock culture? Why is it a passive experience--something "done to them, not something they actively participated in" [p. 148]? Do you think that Querques's tactics in painting Leslie as a sluttish Lolita were legitimate--that he was simply doing the best he could to acquit his clients? Or do you find his behavior despicable? Why is it legally acceptable to make the sexual history of the victim public but not to reveal that of the suspect? How might the legal system try rape suspects without putting the victim on trial too?
10. In what ways do you feel that Glen Ridge High School failed its students--both the jocks, who were growing increasingly delinquent, and their victims? How did it fail the other students: the "Giggers, " for example, and those who were, or might have been, genuinely interested in their academic subjects? Do you see the schools in your community behaving similarly?
11. Do you agree with the final decision of the jury? That is, "was what the boys did a crime--or was it just a crummy thing to do" [p. 35]? What is your reaction to the judge's sentencing of the boys? What messages did the verdict and the sentencing convey to the boys, the town of Glen Ridge, and to those who took an interest in this case?
12. Are all young males aggressive, potentially dangerous, when they are part of a group? Are athletes, by nature or training, violent and dangerous?
13. Bernard Lefkowitz has said, "I think that when we try to respond to men who commit crimes when they're in their twenties and thirties, we're way too late. Their values have been shaped when they were twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old" (Salon magazine, August 1997). If this is the case, what might we do as a society to change the values these boys are acquiring? How might such change be effected?
14. One of the questions posed by this book is: "Is it worth ruining so many lives to punish guys who got carried away for an hour?" [p. 284]. What is your own answer? If it is "no, " do you believe that such leniency should apply in all similar cases?
15. Lefkowitz implies that there are two justice systems in America: one for the affluent, and one for everyone else. Does this seem a fair assessment of the situation? What other prominent legal cases in recent years might illustrate your point?
Posted February 10, 2001
I purchased this book about a year and a half ago. The first time I opened it it took me two days to finish , since then I've read it many times. It was so worthy of reading, the suspense of what would unravel and who was to blame just urged me to keep on and find the truth about the Glen Ridge Rape. The fact that these boys were never given a strong 'No!', simply because they were star athletes of a secluded town that gave them the oppurtunity to do what whatever reckless behavior they could think of, is just plain wrong. I as thirteen year old expect respect from everyone and this town and the parents did nothing to show them that or teach them that. How they could take advantage of that young woman I will never understand and shall never accept.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.