Guam School Curriculum To Combat Sexual Violence

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Territory has one of highest rates of rape in U.S.

By Haidee V. Eugenio

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 29, 2016) – Public schools next month will start rolling out a new age-appropriate curriculum designed to raise student awareness about sexual assault and violence.

Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson and Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez said Thursday Guam may see a "spike" in the number of child sexual assault cases, but they said this could only mean the new curriculum is successful in teaching students how to better protect themselves and how to report any sexual assault if it happens to them or to someone they know.

The Guam Department of Education and the Attorney General’s Office held a joint press conference at the ITC Building on Thursday to discuss the new curriculum.

Guam currently has one of the highest rates of rape in the nation.

Moreover, more than 80 percent of the more than 700 people listed on Guam’s sex offender registry last year were listed for sexually assaulting a child.

"I don’t doubt that we’re gonna see a spike," Barrett-Anderson said, but added that it’s nevertheless "a good scare because it’s about time."

Underreporting has been an issue on the island.

"We can only try to pass the information on to the children," Barrett-Anderson said. "Ultimately, it’s their knowledge and their strength to be able to protect themselves and to understand what is happening to them if they are victimized …"

Fernandez said the lessons for each of the four program levels take approximately one hour a day over the course of four to five days.

Between 600 and 650 Guam Department of Education teachers have been or are being trained by the attorney general and Deputy Attorney General Carol Hinkle-Sanchez on how to properly teach the curriculum, the background to this work, the program materials, and how to properly deal with cases when students report sexual assaults.

The new K-12 curriculum, which is integrated into health classes, applies to all the Guam DOE schools.

Barrett-Anderson, however, said the curriculum would be made available to any school that wants to implement it. She said some private schools have already expressed interest in rolling out the program as well.

The curriculum’s soft implementation during the first two weeks of May coincides with the observance of sexual abuse prevention month, Fernandez said.

This comes four years since the signing of a law creating the Lani-Kate Task Force, which is focused on the prevention of child sexual assault and sexual abuse.

Fernandez said the curriculum’s full implementation would be in school year 2016-2017.

However, the interagency Lani-Kate Task Force is still discussing whether it will be fully implemented in the fall or spring, said Guam Department of Education deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction Joe Sanchez.

Fernandez said even though the focus is on curriculum and raising awareness about sexual assault, he wants to make sure that the community is cognizant of what this is really about.

"I attended a recent funeral for a young student and I think...that’s where it really hits home, what we’re talking about, because we see our students struggling with different issues," he said. "Sometimes it leads to suicide, sometimes it leads to consequences at the school level whether it’s behavioral, or the ability to succeed academically or a mix of all of these things. And we find that sexual assault, sexual violence played a role in many situations throughout our school system with our kids and it has consequences."

He said in reflecting on the issue, he told a group of well-meaning adults that "sometimes, the issue is with us, the issue is with us as adults."

"Are we saying what we need to say to our kids?" he said. "Are we having the conversations we need to have with our kids? Do they understand how to seek help?"

Fernandez said sometimes, family and cultural practices "go against what we talk about now, which is really helping our kids to understand that when they see these issues happen, when it happens to them or to their friends, it is important to understand it, talk about it, to report it and we’re here to make this the expectation for all our students and keep our kids safe."

The task force has generally named the curriculum, "My Body is Special: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum."

But each curriculum level has a specific name. For example, "My Body is Special" is for pre-K to second grade; "My Body, My Boundaries" for third to fifth grade; "Respect: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum" for middle and high school.

Barrett-Anderson and Fernandez said the curriculum is based on Hawaii’s curriculum, but has been modified to better suit the needs of Guam.

They added that addressing sexting and cyberbullying will eventually be integrated into the program.

The curriculum has been aligned to Guam DOE’s content standards and performance indicators in health and physical education and to Guam laws.

Board of Education chairperson Lou San Nicolas thanked the partnerships among agencies in developing the curriculum.

San Nicolas, along with Board of Education vice chair Rosie Tainatongo, requested that parents also be educated or informed about the new curriculum.

The Lani-Kate Task Force, created under Public Law 31-97, has been meeting with Guam DOE since 2012. Among the agencies involved, besides Guam DOE and the attorney general’s office, are the Guam Police Department and private and government social service agencies.

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