In March 1989 a group of teenage boys lured a retarded girl into a basement in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, and gang-raped her. Glen Ridge was the kind of peaceful, affluent suburb many Americans dream about. The rapists were its most popular high school athletes. And although rumors of the crime quickly spread through the town, weeks passed before anyone saw fit to report it to the police. What made these boys capable of brutalizing a girl that some of them had known since childhood? Why did so many of their elders deny the rape and rally around its perpetrators? To solve this riddle, the Edgar award-winning author Bernard Lefkowitz conducted years of research and more than two hundred interviews. The result is not just a wrenching story of crime and punishment, but a hauntingly nuanced portrait of America’s jock culture and the hidden world of unrestrained adolescent sexuality.
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year A Los Angeles Times Prize Finalist An Edgar Finalist
About Bernard Lefkowitz
Bernard Lefkowitz, an Edgar award-winning author, has written three earlier books on social issues, including Tough Change: Growing Up on Your Own in America. He teaches journalism at Columbia University, and lives in Brooklyn, New York. His articles have appeared… More about Bernard Lefkowitz
Q: Why did you decide to write OUR GUYS?
A: I’ve always written about how events shed light on our contemporary culture. The rape of a retarded young woman by a group of high school athletes in a wealthy New Jersey suburb of Glen Ridge offered me such an opportunity for several reasons. First, there were 13 young men in the basement where the rape took place. And I soon learned that two dozen young men gathered the next day to pass around the bat and the broomstick that were used in the rape. The involvement of so many prominent and admired teenage boys suggested that this wasn’t a case of a couple of guys gone bad, but rather a crime that reflected the values embedded in the surrounding culture.
I was also fascinated by the extensive support these young men received in the community and the intensive vilification of the victim, who had an IQ of 49. I wanted to know why so many people supported the accused and condemned the victim.
Q: You’ve written about how these boys routinely mistreated and humiliated girls for years before the rape happened. Why did adults look away from the behavior of these boys when they were growing up?
A: These boys were regarded as something special, as athletes often are in our culture. As long as they performed on the athletic field, they were spared the judgment and opprobrium of adults. Character was separated from achievement. Parents and the schools refused to make decent behavior a precondition for participating in organized sports.
Q: What sort of things did these boys do to girls?
A: It started with small things, like bra snapping in the middle schools, and developed into much more serious misconduct. One boy frequently exposed himself and masturbated in his high school classrooms; others wrecked the homes of girls they didn’t like and stole hundreds of dollars from them. One of the real tragedies was that young women came to feel that the price of acceptance was submissiveness. Unless they were submissive to the demands of these guys, they would not be socially accepted in their community and schools. From the beginning, they knew that was the price they had to pay for acceptance.
Q: What made the victim vulnerable to these young men?
A: What made her vulnerable was what made so many other young women vulnerable. The boys were treated like celebrities in the town because they were athletes. She was athletic and for her there was no greater honor than to get a smile or greeting from them. When they invited her to a party at the basement of the co-captains of the football team, she took it as an invitation to enter a social world from which she had always been excluded.
Q: Is Glen Ridge unique? Could what happened in Glen Ridge have happened in other places?
A: There was nothing defective in the gene pool in Glen Ridge. The water supply wasn’t contaminated. This was a perfectly norman suburb where children and teenagers got almost everything they asked for. I’m convinced that Glen Ridge’s values resembled the values of thousands of other communities across the country. Since the book has been published, I’ve gotten hundreds of letters and phone calls from people who have had similar experiences with young men who were lionized in their towns and colleges and workplaces. I see Glen Ridge as a crucible for understanding the misbehavior of some men much later in life, at places like the Citadel, Wall Street firms, military bases, professional sports teams and fraternities. The fact is, when we try to respond to men who commit crimes when they’re in their 20’s and 30’s we’re way too late. Their values have been shaped when they were 12 and 13 years old. Clearly, that was the case with the young men of Glen Ridge.