Nearly one in four girls and one in six boys will be the victims of sexual abuse before the age of 18. That’s according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control. But attempts are underway to educate Mississippi’s middle and high school students on how to prevent sexual assaults.
Riley Herrin was sexually assaulted by her stepfather from the age of five until she was eleven. Now in her mid-twenties, she works with the Schafer Center for Crisis in Hattiesburg -- a program that provides counseling for victims of sexual assault and rape. She says some kids who are abused do not understand that it is out of the norm.
"At the time I knew it didn't feel right but this was my cultural norm, my family; so to me this was normal." says Herrin. "To me this was how families were supposed to interact. This was how daughters and step-fathers were supposed to interact, and so to me that was normal. I feel like if somebody would have come to school and said this isn't normal. this isn't okay I might would have been willing to say 'Hey,' and tell somebody."
It's because of cases like Herrin's, that officials with the state department of health are implementing a nationally recognized, evidence-based educational program known as Safe Date to help middle and high schools students identify abuse and what they should do about it. Heather Wagner is the Director of the Office Against Interpersonal Violence.
"You don't just hand the kid the key to the car and say okay drive, you teach them how to drive." Wagner says. "We don't teach our kids how to be in healthy safe relationships, and that's what this program will do, is teach our children how to be in a healthy relationship how to stay safe and that's hopefully translate into their adult lives."
Currently, there are no plans to implement the Safe Date curriculum in Mississippi's schools. But private organizations like churches and community groups are being encouraged to present the program to small groups of students in hopes of one day making the it available to schools.