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 firstname.lastname@example.org.