Teens teach teens important lessons about harassment, rape

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Sexual harassment is something that only happens in the workplace, right?

Rape only happens in dark alleys, big cities and unlighted parks, right?

Wrong.

Both types of sexual crimes are happening in Craig and are being experienced and initiated by teen-agers.

The growing problem of sexual harassment and "date-rape" is what encouraged a group of almost two dozen high school students to go public with a lesson for teens what constitutes a sex crime, what to do if it happens and how to avoid it. The group is called Prevent and is sponsored by Advocates-Crisis Support Services. All work done by the teens is voluntary.

The group gathered last week at Craig Middle School and Moffat County High School to make presentations about sexual harassment. Information about date-rape was included in the high school presentation.

Students in the Prevent group chose the topic, spent hours in training and created the presentations themselves.

They defined sexual harassment as cat calls, whistles, flashing, snapping bras, spreading sexual rumors or making comments as to the size of other's body parts. The key word in the definition of sexual harassment, they said, was "unwelcome." Any unwelcome or demeaning sexual advance was described as harassment.

The topic is a hard one for the students, Advocates Director Pat Tessmer said because it involves explaining terms students find embarrassing.

In the presentation, students in the Prevent group give examples of situations students could find themselves in and audience members are asked to decide if the situation entailed sexual harassment or not and why.

The topic elicited lively discussion from most classes, Tessmer said.

Words that are considered sexual harassment brutally descriptive terms, that, according to teachers, fly off student's tongues with ease are used daily in the school and, according to teacher Jim Loughran, students don't fully understand the implications of the words.

"Some kids think it's a joke and it isn't a joke," he said. "I think (students) are playing with something they don't fully understand. What (they're) doing is playing with fire."

The Moffat County School District policy on sexual harassment states that it has no place in school. Students accused of sexual harassment suffer a verbal reprimand first and counseling or detention on the second complaint. The third step is suspension from extra curricular activities, then expulsion. An outside punishment can be legal prosecution.

There are several steps people can take to prevent sexual harassment, group members said. The first is to clearly tell the harasser the attention is unwanted. According to Loughran, that is the first thing the high school administration will ask and request a student do if a sexual harassment complaint is filed. The second step is to alert the administration and the third is to keep a writen record of the harassment. Other things students can do is work to make positive changes in the school and to encourage a proactive stance against sexual harassment.

Students also warned other students to not go anywhere alone at night and to establish clear boundaries when in an intimate relationship.

According to Tessmer, there is a growing occurrence of date-rape in Craig and the age of the victims continues to increase. Advocates has offered services to 43 victims of sexual assault so far this year.

One of the main concerns with sexual assault is the increased use of the drug rohypnol the date-rape drug. The drug surfaced in Craig at least three years ago, and Tessmer believes it may have been here five years ago.

Rohypnol is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It has been referred to as the "drug of forgetfulness" because people who take it are usually rendered unconscious or fall asleep and many have no recollection of events after taking the drug. According to members of the Prevent team, anyone who thinks they may have been given rohypnol can take a free test given by The Memorial Hospital. The test can detect traces of the drug for up to 72 hours.

Students were warned about picking up mixed signals during sexual encounters and advised that clear communication is the only safe way to not be accused of rape. Tessmer told students that any time a person does not say "yes" to a sexual experience it's rape and anything other than a clear "yes" means "no."

"It's pretty scary ground," high school counselor Andrew Young said. "If it's not explicit, you're stepping on the grounds of rape."

"We're really trying to give the kids the message that they just have to ask," Tessmer said.

Prevent is in its sixth year of the "students helping students" approach. Advocates holds open recruitment at the beginning of the year and usually sponsors a booth at freshmen orientation. Members usually sign up then, but the group's presentations are also an active recruitment tool. At least one high school student expressed interest in Prevent after the presentation.

In the spring of 1998, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault started a mentorship program where agencies partnered with other agencies to share program ideas. Advocates chose the Boulder County Rape Crisis Team as a mentor because it liked its peer training philosophy.

"It's pretty evident that kids listen to kids," Tessmer said.

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