Grant funds local sex assault prevention education

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High school and junior high students complete individual evaluations at the end of each sexual assault prevention and education course.

Roughly 5 percent of each class surveyed has the same message.

"I wish I'd have had this sooner because it has already happened to me or my friends," Pat

Tessmer, executive director of Moffat County Advocates-Crisis Support Services, summed up the responses.

Advocates' in-school sexual assault prevention and education efforts for the year were bolstered last week by the receipt of a federal grant.

Advocates was awarded $9,000 -- one of 15 Colorado groups offering the school-aged curriculum to receive funding, which is administered by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Colorado Department of Public Safety's division of criminal justice.

Tessmer said the money would go toward added salary for full-time staff involved in the education programs aimed at Craig Intermediate School seventh-graders and Moffat County High School freshmen.

The sexual assault prevention efforts began at MCHS in 1992.

Tessmer said misconceptions about the program remain.

"We're not encouraging people to have sex but teaching preventative strategies for safe behavior, and avoiding situations that could lead to sexual assault," she said.

That advice begins with steering clear of drugs and alcohol, she said. Students are also encouraged to go out in groups.

Students also are instructed on what Tessmer called the "relationship between power and violence."

"We tell kids to trust instincts, and if someone ignores it, to

pay attention to that," Tessmer

said.

Advocates' education grant comes after a year that saw a substantial jump in services --such as crisis counseling -- to victims of sexual assault or domestic violence.

In 2002, 69 people ages 18 to 24 received services from Advocates -- up from 20 the previous year. Thirty-two children ages 13 to 17 also received services -- an increase from 22 in 2001.

Advocates' frontline against assault is PREVENT, an organization of high-school aged students who are trained to help, and refer, sexual assault victims among peers. The group this year has 14 members, and averages about 10 annually, said Karen Aragon, Youth Services coordinator who devotes 10 hours per week to the program for Advocates.

"We feel teens react better to other teens," Aragon said. " Kids remember seeing these PREVENT members."

PREVENT has planned its annual "Walk Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault " for Sunday. Participants are asked to gather and leave Craig City Park at 2 p.m. for the short trip to the Moffat County Courthouse, where teen speakers will share individual stories and poems.

"It's our community's chance to show support for kids who have taken a stand," Tessmer said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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