Tami Cowger first heard about the exploits of the Spur Posse when she was . approached last December by a distraught ninth grader. "She had met this boy and really liked him, so she had sex with him. Then he brought his friends over and said she had to have sex with them too. She didn't want to, but she figured maybe this is what you have to do to be popular in high school." So the girl submitted, recalls Cowger, 17, a peer counselor at the high school in Lakewood, California. She sympathized with the younger girl's dilemma: "These were the popular guys."
Those popular guys now find themselves in the middle of an uproar over teenage values that has spread beyond the conservative, middle-class Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood. While denying charges ranging from sexual molestation to rape, the group of 20 to 30 youths has proudly owned up to a competition in which they scored points each time they had a sexual conquest. Their seeming lack of regard for the girls they were scoring upon shocked many Lakewood residents, as did the widespread perception of the boys as heroes and the girls as troublemakers. The debate set men against women and students against each other as everyone tried to draw the lines between teenage libidos, rampant promiscuity and the victimization of women.
The town of 74,000 learned about the accusations on March 18 after seven girls filed complaints against members of the Spur Posse, named in honor of their basketball heroes, the San Antonio Spurs. Sheriff's deputies arrested eight boys and one young man on more than 17 felony counts of rape, unlawful intercourse and related charges. Last week county prosecutors said charges would be filed against only one of the boys for allegedly having sex with a 10-year-old girl. The other eight youths were set free. While four of them remained under investigation, many townspeople felt justice had been shortchanged. "There is a sense of outrage about the charges being dropped," said Julie Dodge of the Sexual Assault Crisis Agency in nearby Long Beach.
Posse members described their exploits with bravado. Founding member Dana Belman, 20, explained that members received a point each time they achieved orgasm with a different girl and boasted that he had scored 63 points. Billy Shehan, 19, bragged that he was the highest scorer, with 66 points. "My parents were a little surprised," he said. "They thought it was more like 50." Shehan said that while many of the boys did not use condoms when intercourse was involved, he did. "I buy them by the boxload," he explained.
Some of the boys' parents seemed unperturbed. At the Belman home, where son Kristopher, 18, had returned after being released from custody, father Donald said, "Nothing my boy did was anything any red-blooded American boy wouldn't do at his age." Billy Shehan's father Billy Sr. offered a historical perspective. "I'm 40. We used to talk about scoring in my high school," he said. "What's the difference?" Son Billy, who was not among those arrested, was irritated only because his folks wouldn't allow him to discuss the controversy on the Jerry Springer show. Beyond that, he saw no cause for remorse. "My dad used to brag to his friends. All the dads did. When we brought home girls they liked, they'd say, 'Cool,' and tell their buddies," he said. "It's all the moms that are freaking out about this stuff. But that's probably that Freudian thing. You know, penis envy."