Indecent Exposure


Patrick couldn't bring himself to walk to the library. It was a
beautiful day with a warm sun and a soft, baby-blue sky. Who could
blame the high school junior if he blew off studying and went for a
burger instead of a book?

But Patrick actually wanted to go to the library. It's just that there
was a gang of reporters in the way, wielding microphones and cameras
and notebooks instead of guns or knives. There was no way around them.
They had staked out their territory: directly between Patrick and the
library on the bucolic campus of Milton Academy.

Hold up—this isn't another in the endless stream of stories about the
five Milton Academy boys who got blowjobs in a locker room from a
15-year-old female classmate. Three of the boys, ages 17 and 18, were
in court that day, apologizing and agreeing to perform 100 hours of
community service in a deal that kept them from potentially going to
jail or being registered as sex offenders.

This isn't about that. It isn't about oversexed teenagers with too much
money and no sense. This is a story about the story—or stories,
actually, since there were dozens of them, in the Boston dailies and
the New York Post and on The Abrams Report and The O'Reilly Factor, and
20/20 has been calling, too. This is about how—before anyone knew it,
before Milton could control it, before the boys or the girl in question
had time to brace for it—the sex scandal became national news. And why
we fueled the frenzy by devouring every word.

“It's hard to be a student under these circumstances,” says Patrick.
That's not his real name. Like many at Milton, he asks that his
identity be protected. In addition to being wary of the media, he is
worried about repercussions from his peers, or what the administration
might think. “It is still not helpful to the best resolution of the
matter for faculty, staff, or students to express their opinions to any
representatives of the media,” the head of school, Robin Robertson, had
written in an e-mail the day before. Robertson declined an interview
request, but the school's director of communications, Cathleen Everett,
says that e-mail referred only to the delicate moment at which the
pretrial agreement was being finalized. “This thing,” Patrick says, “is
so complicated for us.”

This thing, which happened in January, crashed hard against Milton's
tranquil campus. Thereafter, as still more was learned about the darker
side of the prestigious private school, life there became increasingly
painful. The story grew into an open sore, a wound that was picked at
freely by the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, talk radio, and the
television news. In a few months' time, Milton went from being one of
the country's most famous private schools to one of its most infamous.

“When I went on spring break, I was talking to some kids my age,” says
another Milton student, who vacationed in the tropics. “They asked me
where I went to school. I told them outside of Boston—Milton Academy.
They knew right away. They heard what happened. I got this 'woooo'
response.”

Teenage boys get blowjobs. Teenage girls give blowjobs. It happens.
Probably more than you think. Certainly more than you're aware. In
December, the month before the Milton incident occurred, several
basketball players from Trimble Technical High School in Fort Worth,
Texas, were suspended after receiving oral sex from girls at nearby
Granbury High School during a hoops tournament there. In March, a
17-year-old former Brookline High School student was charged with the
statutory rape of a freshman girl. In June, four Winchendon School
basketball players were charged with the statutory rape of a
15-year-old sophomore girl in a boys' dormitory. Look more closely and
you'll see that the alleged rape at Winchendon actually occurred the
previous October; it was prosecuted only after the Milton case was (the
Winchendon teens pleaded innocent and their trial is pending).

Despite the similarities between those episodes and what happened at
Milton, you likely haven't heard of them. None has gotten as much
attention as the Milton incident. Why and how did Milton become the
reluctant exemplar by which all other teenage debauchery and poor
judgment are measured? The answer has much to do with Milton Academy
itself and what it has long represented. Because what happened there is
not much different from what happens everywhere.

Close to 46 percent of 15- to 19-year-olds nationwide, and 41 percent
in Massachusetts, admit to having had sex, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, that means more than 20
million teenagers are taking it off and getting it on—nearly 170,000 of
them in Massachusetts. Yet in the past year, only about two dozen
statutory rape charges appear to have been brought against teenagers in
this state.

And so the February party involving Milton students at the Courtyard by
Marriott in Copley Square, billed by the Herald as a “booze-fueled
hotel teen orgy,” wasn't necessarily anything new to those who
attended, a group that reportedly included at least two of the boys who
were later charged with statutory rape in the locker-room episode.
“Honestly, it wasn't that different from parties I've heard of or
seen,” says one girl who was also there. “Milton has a high reputation.
That's why it was blown up. We didn't do anything different than
normal.”

Established in 1798, Milton has long been considered one of the best
private schools in the country. And one of the most picturesque: The
sprawling campus is bordered by trees and flowers and, on parts of the
road that cuts through the heart of the grounds, a white picket fence.
Students walk over gently sloping, manicured greens on their way to
classes held in strong, old brick buildings trimmed in white around the
windowpanes and doors. Some have pillars or columns near the entrance.
Others are covered in spots by ivy. It is an ideal setting with a
collegiate feel. T. S. Eliot went to Milton. So did Senator Edward
Kennedy.

Today, Milton educates students from 34 states and 16 countries. Some
are day students. Others, like the 15-year-old girl in question, are
boarders. All of them, unless they have received scholarships, are
asked to pay a hefty sum for their education. It costs $25,675 per year
to attend Milton; if a student lives on campus, that price jumps to
$32,725. Some of the brightest kids in the country go to Milton. Some
of the richest, too.

The vaunted status of the school and the privileged lives of many of
its students have much to do with why this story got so much attention.
It's the same reason we were fascinated by Brad and Jennifer's breakup
or distraught that Michael Jackson didn't wind up in jail, or why
Harvard President Larry Summers ends up in the New York Times whenever
he says something even mildly silly: There is simply no higher level of
schadenfreude than when the rich or famous stumble.

“It's sort of the old Hitchcock thing—we don't expect a crime in a rose
garden,” says Brother Gerard Molyneaux, former chairman of the
communication department at Philadelphia's La Salle University. Just as
you wouldn't expect a sex scandal at stuffy, expensive Milton Academy,
you wouldn't expect one at moralistic, pious La Salle, which is run by
the Christian Brothers. Still, it happened. About a year ago, La Salle
suffered a similar indignity when members of its men's basketball team
were charged with rape. “It's still a shock to our values,” Molyneaux
said. “Because of their money and stature we expect [students' parents]
to be morally superior and that they raise better children. We expect
more of them, and that's silly. It's a real strange moralistic
standard, but it's true.”

At least three of the Milton students charged with statutory rape come
from considerable means. One is part of a family that owns a large,
profitable Massachusetts insurance concern. Another is the son of a
Florida physician. The third is the progeny of a former professional
athlete. The girl comes from a drastically different background. Her
parents worked at a private school in New Hampshire—the mother as
headmistress, the father as principal—until they were dismissed in
April. The school's board alleges in court papers that the couple used
school accounts to improperly write large checks for cash. They have
denied the allegations.

When Norfolk County District Attorney William Keating decided to bring
charges in the case, some legal experts wondered if, as a result of the
criminal proceedings, the boys could then be more easily dragged into
civil court for damages. Sources close to the boys worry that the
statements the three of them made before a judge could seriously hurt
them should the girl's family decide to sue. Her family presumably
needs money; their families have it.

“If a civil case is brought, the apologies [the boys] read [in court]
could be used against them,” says former Suffolk County assistant
district attorney William Korman, who is now a criminal-defense
attorney. “Any time there's an admission, it can be used in a civil
case.”

Keating says he had no choice but to move forward, regardless of what
that might mean for a civil suit, because of the evidence and the fact
that under state law 15-year-olds cannot legally consent to sex. Other
legal experts disagree, saying that had Keating chosen not to
prosecute, there was little the girl's family, or anyone else, could
have done about it.

“Anyone who says that doesn't understand the specifics of this
case—prosecutors don't act unilaterally,” says Keating, who was a state
legislator before becoming DA. “Five defense lawyers, a judge—you have
all those variables in place. . . .

I think we dealt with the broadness of the law so that the result
addressed the actions of those involved and at the same time didn't
result in someone having to register as a sex offender for the rest of
their lives or have something on their record. The law requires that
it's the mere act, not consent, that matters.”

All of which—the pretrial agreement, the still-possible civil suit, the
boys' background and their families' wealth, and the reality that
teenagers had group sex on the grounds of exalted Milton Academy—were,
and continue to be, elements seized upon by the media and discussed in
offices and homes everywhere. Combined, they are the reason why the
story hasn't just been covered, but obsessed over—splashed across the
front page or made the lead topic on talk radio. The media takes heat
for keeping the story alive, but there has to be a market for it. It's
like attacking the fast-food industry: You can blame McDonald's for
promoting obesity by serving Big Macs, but only if you concede that
customers who willingly scarf them down are equally culpable. People
wanted to talk about the Milton scandal or read about it—some because
they were curious, some because they were outraged, others because they
found it titillating—and the media was only too happy to serve the
public more guilty little treats.

“There's a little bit of voyeur in all of us,” says Derek Polonsky, an
instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “When I was in high
school, we went to Pompeii. The boys were separated from the girls.
This was in 1960. We toured various ruins and there, painted on the
walls, were people having sex in positions I didn't know were possible.
Well, that was way back. But it shows that throughout the ages there's
a wish to look and see.”

For some, he says, it's a curiosity. For others, it becomes an
obsession. “We can think we're not doing anything bad because we're
just reading about it in the newspaper. That's not necessarily the
case. It is a question of degree. But it's clear a wide range of people
find this interesting.”

More than 50 stories about the Milton case have appeared in the Globe
and Herald combined, not counting the many letters to the editor.
Before long, the national media picked up the story and spread it like
a communicable virus that still hasn't found a cure. The Los Angeles
Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press have all made mention of
the Milton sex scandal. Professors have discussed it in class. Parents
have used it to broach the topic of sexuality with their children.
Coworkers have chewed it over during lunch. It has become ubiquitous to
the point of cliché—mentions of teenage sex or depravity now come with
the requisite Milton Academy reference. Screw The O.C.; we have The M.A.

“This is one of those stories that have the cultural elements that
people find irresistible,” says Dan Kennedy, former longtime media
critic for the Boston Phoenix who next month becomes a visiting
professor at Northeastern. “It's affluent white kids in the 'burbs, the
girl—what do we think of her—the group setting, all of it. I suppose in
a way, given those factors, that it's kind of futile to say that the
Globe or Herald or whoever should have played it down. Even if they had
played it down, it would have been all over talk radio. There was
really no getting around it. It may not have been a big story in
objective terms, but it was a big story in terms of what people were
all talking about. And they'll probably still be talking about it for
years.”

Despite the best efforts of Milton Academy officials, who say the
school has moved on, the story refuses to die. A Current Affair and
20/20 have contacted representatives of the boys, looking to do pieces
of their own. Accordingly, because of the interest it has generated and
continues to generate, you can reasonably assume it will be brought up
again—when classes resume next month; on the one-year anniversary of
the locker-room incident; when the girl graduates; if the boys do
anything notable in their career or if they violate their probation; or
perhaps the next time Milton Academy does something unrelated to the
scandal, but newsworthy.

That day Patrick didn't want to go to the library because of the media
swarm, he said something else that other Milton kids also shared. He
said he was glad that an agreement had been reached because that meant
the scandal was finally over, that he wouldn't have to talk about it
anymore. He'd said almost the same thing—that he was glad it was
over—back when the boys were expelled. And when the girl returned to
campus after taking a leave. And so he said it again the day the boys
apologized in court. I'm not sure he believed it, but he said it
anyway, as if repeating the sentiment might make it so.