Stopping rape not just girl talk

> MILFORD – Not long ago, Milford Police Sgt. Olivia Siekman gave a lecture to about 100 se­nior girls at Milford High School. The topic, self-defense against rape, is an important one, espe­cially for girls moving on to college in September.

By some estimates, 1 in 5 female students are raped, and women tend to be at the greatest risk during their first year on campus.

But many of the girls who attended the pro­gram were dissatisfied. Most rapes are commit­ted by men, so why wasn’t someone talking to them about rape, they wanted to know. Why only focus on the potential victims and ignore the potential perpetrators?

"The presentation was valuable – it was all good stuff," senior Allison Betelak said, but, "I just knew there was something missing."

So Betelak wrote a let­ter to The Cabinet saying she and the other girls felt there should be gender-balanced discussions, with boys being taught, "No means no, no matter what."

"It makes no sense to tell females how to pro­tect themselves from rape," she said, "when boys are not being educat­ed on consent and respect toward females."

Also frustrated that the school hasn’t offered a program for boys is Ju­dith Zaino, the school’s director of academic studies.

Zaino is part of the school’s Wellness Com­mittee, which is looking for a program for boys.

There is a lot of cultur­al confusion about what constitutes consent, she said, and that was made clear during the trial of Owen Labrie last year.

Labrie, a former stu­dent at St. Paul’s School in Concord, was sen­tenced to a year in prison and five years’ probation for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. The jury acquitted Labrie on the main rape charges, how­ever, saying the victim had not communicated a lack of consent.

Milford Principal Brad Craven said he thinks a program for boys is an ex­cellent idea, and now it’s just a question of finding one.

As the parent of a boy and two girls, with one of the girls in college, Craven said, "I get sick thinking about all the freedom, alcohol – it’s all uncharted waters" for young people.

Boys should be told how quickly a bad deci­sion can change lives, he said, and to think about their female family mem­bers.

Siekman gave the girls tips on how to stay safe – by using a buddy sys­tem at parties, for exam­ple – and how to protect against date-rape drugs. She also explained the use of rape kits and why a victim should use one, even if she’s unsure she would file charges.

The sergeant said she agrees there should be a program for boys – some kind of class emphasizing morals and ethics.

Dawn Reams, director of Bridges, the Nashua and Milford-based orga­nization against domes­tic and sexual violence, said there are programs available that are di­rected at males, and the agency’s educator is planning to call Milford High School.

There is some evidence that such a program would be worthwhile. Papers in two research journals, the Journal of College Student Develop­ment and the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, report on studies that show that after seeing The Men’s Program, a rape prevention program used on college campus­es, a majority of the men reported attitude chang­es, behavior changes or both.

And not surprisingly, studies show the risk of rape for freshman women went down after they at­tended rape-prevention sessions.

In a randomized trial, published in The New England Journal of Medi­cine and reported in the New York Times, first-year students at three Canadian campuses were surveyed a year after they completed the inter­vention. The risk of rape for 451 women randomly assigned to the program was about 5 percent, com­pared with nearly 10 per­cent among 442 women in a control group who were given brochures and a brief information ses­sion.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.