To Teach Students about Sexual Abuse, You Have to Teach Them about Sex

Last month, Bitchtopia published an article on “The Importance of Making Sex Education…Sexier,” in which nataliebri shared some very vital information on sexual education curricula throughout the country, including:

Even though 80 percent of U.S. adults support comprehensive sexual education, and even though 86 percent of the decline in teenage pregnancy can be attributed to greater access to and knowledge of contraceptive methods, abstinence-only education programs continue to thrive and have received 1.75 billion dollars in federal funding since 1981. These are the same programs that teach our youth that women who have multiple partners before marriage are synonymous to melted Peppermint Patties.

Having just completed an academic year of coordinating after-school and service-learning programs in Waterbury, Conn., where the Board of Education enforces an abstinence-only sexual agenda, this is a struggle with which I am all too familiar and frustrated.

In Waterbury, we were instructed not to breach any topic that relates to sex and reproduction, even including HIV/AIDS. Connecticut state law actually requires that “each local and regional board of education shall offer during the regular school day planned, ongoing and systematic instruction on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, as taught by legally qualified teachers,” but as an after-school program coordinator, I don’t fall into that category, so I therefore am not required by state law from informing students of this topic, and by local regulations and organizational guidelines, I am essentially barred from doing so. The kicker here is that I am responsible for leading after-school meetings and service-learning projects focused on public health and health care issues relevant to the students with whom I am working. According to data from the University of Connecticut Health Center and the Connecticut State Department of Education, Waterbury has the second highest rate of births to teenage mothers. Between 2006 and 2010, 57.5 of every 1,000 teenage women had given birth, more than double the rate for the state of Connecticut (22 births per 1,000 teenage women). If that’s not a public health issue relevant to the students with whom I was working, what is?

On July 1, thanks to signing of the legislation by Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Connecticut officially enacted Erin’s Law, already in place in 15 states throughout the country. Named for Erin Merryn, a victim of sexual abuse and current author and activist, the law requires schools to implement “age-appropriate” sexual abuse and assault awareness curriculum for grades K through 12. I found out about the passing of this legislation during a screening of Youth Rights Media’s youth-produced documentary, “44: Sexual Violence in Youth Culture.” While grateful for the passing of Erin’s Law in Connecticut, I also immediately wondered how these curricula would be implemented effectively (and how their effectiveness would be measured and ensured) in school districts such as Waterbury.

My question to such school districts is this: how will you teach students to recognize sexual abuse without teaching them what safe sex and relationships look like?

In “44,” Dr. Tracy Tamborra of the University of New Haven points out that keeping children in the dark about their reproductive organs shames them from talking about them, even when they may have been abused.

“If [parents] give [their] children these other strange words to classify their reproductive organs, they start to think about this part of their body as this strange, weird place. And so if a child is sexually abused and their parents have told them it’s their ‘private parts,’ they may feel responsible for allowing their ‘private parts’ to be seen or touched.”

The same goes for talking about sex–at any age. The ability of a young person–or any person–to identify an unsafe or unwanted sexual encounter or relationship is a priority in advocating for comprehensive sexual education, but we know there are other benefits, as well.

If educators are expected to inform students about sexual violence, then they’re going to have to inform them about sex: what it is, how it happens, and when it is and isn’t OK for it to happen. To do that, school boards are going to have to recognize the problems that their abstinence-only curricula perpetuate and make a conscious decision to amend their laws for the health and safety of their residents, especially the youngest ones.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s