No parent should be shocked that five high school football players hired prostitutes while on a road trip to North Carolina last week.
Nor is it especially surprising that the little johns were from football powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville. Religion and prestige are rarely shields from temptation and stupidity.
What’s new in this old-as-time story is that today, thanks to smartphones and the nearly complete submersion of the sex trade into the digital swamp, ordering three prostitutes to your hotel room is as easy as ordering a pizza.
“The Internet is the new street corner, and I tell everyone that going down to 14th Street” — the street once known for prostitution in the District — “is nothing more than going to your browser now,” said Sgt. Ken Penrod, a vice detective with the Montgomery County police.
The bold step of ordering up a prostitute on an iPhone often begins as early as middle school, when legions of boys start downloading porn.
Remember when the quest for certain issues of National Geographic or the hunt for Uncle Fred’s Playboy stash used to define porn exploration?
Now that the family computer and its Net Nanny aren’t the only way to get online, the access to porn and paid sex is in the palms of our children’s hands, 24-7, giving the “Droid Does” slogan enhanced meaning.
Mobile porn has become so prevalent among teens that there is even a nonprofit group, Fight the New Drug, and a micro-industry of treatment camps aimed at teens who have a crippling addiction to it.
For teens ogling mobile porn regularly, the next logical step is to act out that fantasy and click on the many ads urging viewers to order up live sex.
As horrified parents, how do we stop this?
The 18 chaperons on the trip with the DeMatha team did bed checks at 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. They were almost as thorough as the Secret Service planning security for a presidential trip. Oh wait, scratch that. The Secret Service has its own little problem in this area.
The DeMatha boys evaded the best efforts of their chaperons by placing their order at 5 a.m.
Gonzaga boys soccer coach Scott Waller told The Washington Post that he confiscates laptops and cellphones when the team is on the road.
Get this: When Good Counsel coach Bob Milloy took 50 football players to Las Vegas for a game, they had 14 coaches, the school athletic director, trainer and strength coach plus two additional adults and two cops he hired just for the trip.
If anything happened in Vegas, it stayed there. But maybe the cops were the final defense keeping it legal. Wait, that is legal in parts of Nevada.
The simple fact is, keeping kids from doing what they want to do is tough.
And an online debate has been raging about the fairness of DeMatha’s punishment — kicking the boys off the team.
“They’re just teenagers being stupid teenagers. They should be suspended for a week, give them some community service in the school, and the coach should make them run some laps. Another case of the news media sensationalizing everything,” wrote T_Dubb, in the story’s comments.
That reaction mystified Penrod and others.
“It. Was. Illegal,” he said. It wasn’t just immoral.
If drugs were the issue, the debate about punishment wouldn’t even happen. And there would be no winks, no “boys will be boys” comebacks in online forums.
This isn’t a problem limited to DeMatha or an anomaly in any way. Parents who think their kids would never dream of downloading porn or hiring prostitutes are kidding themselves.
Penrod’s investigators see kids from all over Montgomery trawling the online prostitution sites. He remembers one kid who got stung in a case involving a sex worker, and police saw his profile pop up on a prostitution site the next day after he appeared in court.
The problem here isn’t only about limiting access. There are deeper lessons to address.
The illegal purchase of sex, the fact that most American prostitution is a result of human trafficking and the reality that the plastic, bleached and enhanced world of online sex is a myth that twists ideas of human sexuality and relationships need to be discussed here.
Parents cannot toss aside online porn as the equivalent of the curiosity they remember.
Porn is everywhere. You click on a link for “Cute Animal Videos” and bam! you get barnyard acts by naked humans (true story — happened to me with the kids on the iPad this summer). Any child of any age with a Nook, a Kindle or an iPad can go from Word Search or Angry Birds to graphic, violent, degrading sex videos in just two clicks.
And for older kids, not only are they awash in unrealistic, desensitizing images, but they are constantly being urged to take it to the next level, to go live.
Families who don’t have uncomfortable but honest discussions about sex, porn and prostitution are putting kids at risk for some scary consequences.
That sex talk won’t happen once or twice. It has to happen often, with a lot more detail today.
Deborah Roffman, a sex educator in Maryland for four decades and the author of “Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘Go To Person’ About Sex,” said she talks to parents a lot about the conversations they have with kids. But recently, she has issued an ultimatum:
“I rarely say ‘parents must.’ But in the book I just finished, I said parents must talk to children about pornography.”
“You used to have to go to the other side of town to go to the video store. That was a statement by our society. There were a lot of physical barriers. And that’s all gone now, there are no physical barriers between the child and adult world.”
The DeMatha players betrayed the school’s strict moral code, humiliated their families, undermined their team and put their futures at risk.
We talk to them about saying no to drugs, drinking, and texting and driving.
But when it comes to talking about online sex, too many parents clam up.
Those days are over.