Presentation at Park High sparks important discussion

By: 
Liz Kearney

The topic of discussion during a special program held all day Thursday in the Park High School Library was a simple one: “No means no.” 

Mary Young, education and outreach coordinator with the local nonprofit ASPEN — Abuse Support and Prevention Education Network — presented the lively, no-holds-barred program for Park High students throughout the day Thursday in the school library.

The topic was consent. Consent in Thursday’s context mostly referred to consent of a sexual nature between two people — everything from holding hands and exchanging a kiss up to contact of a more intimate nature. 

The “consent” talk has been in the news lately with the national media reporting on sexual assault and rape on college campuses across the country. Several rape charges involved members of the University of Montana’s football team, which was well-documented in the Jon Krakauer book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.” 

Young told the students it’s important to ask and to communicate. 

“Asking ‘Can I hold your hand?’ is easy, and it makes it easier to ask harder questions later,” she said. “Talk early and often.” 

School officials invited Young in to present her program, PHS Guidance Counselor Ardis Steinmetz said Thursday. 

“We like to do this presentation this time of year because it’s birds and the bees season as well as prom season,” Steinmetz said. “And we’re so grateful to ASPEN and Mary.” 

Young’s program was lively and full of very straight answers, and students opened up and asked questions. 

“What if she said yes and then no, right in the middle of …” a young man asked, to nervous laughter from around the room. 

“You pull out and move away,” Young replied, unfazed. 

During a break between sixth and seventh period, Young said, “Everyone knows teens are having sex. It’s important to have open dialogues …. and that they get the answers to questions they may have been told wrong about.” 

Young said statistics show that one in three women will experience some form of sexual assault, as well as one in seven men. Men seldom report a sexual assault, she said, so the actual figures may be higher. 

Young emphasized that no means no, and that anyone can say no at any time. Even if a couple has been dating for a long time and have had sex previously, either partner can say no at any point in any future encounter. 

The program was seen by about 400 PHS students. 

Despite the occasional straight talk, Steinmetz said no parent objected to their child attending the program. Parents were informed about the presentation in an announcement Monday, she said. 

“It’s important we use all the words and be as honest as possible with the kids,” Steinmetz said. 

Assistant Park High Principal Lori Dust said the conversation is “courageous” and can be hard to have, but said the students respond well to being informed. 

“If we can reduce just one sexual assault or rape, it’s worth it,” Dust said.

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Liz Kearney may be reached at lkearney@livent.net.