Belle Fourche High School had a different kind of “sex education class” Thursday.
The first class of the day for all BFHS students filled the Belle Fourche Area Community Center theater to hear a special presentation by the Butte-Lawrence Sexual Assault Response Team.
Belle Fourche Police school officer Katie Allart said, “We want to educate all the students about all the responsibilities that comes with sex.”
Also speaking were Heather Plunkett, Butte County State’s Attorney, Spearfish Regional Hospital’s emergency department director and sexual assault nurse examiner Lacey Joens, and Mary Koens, an advocate from Artemis House.
Allart told the students, “We go to all of the schools in the area.”
Joens said it’s not just females who are sexually assaulted and not just males guilty of sexual assaults.
“One in six females and one in 14 males is sexually assaulted in their lifetime,” she said.
Nearly half are under age 18.
She said that victims often are reluctant to go to the hospital or police to report a sexual assault or abuse because they are afraid other people will find out. They may be afraid of getting in trouble with the law themselves because alcohol illegal for their age group was involved.
If a person does report assault or abuse immediately, at the hospital they will have a private room with a specially-trained nurse. Confidentiality is guaranteed.
Joens added that it’s important to go for help: “It’s a healing process from the very beginning.”
Koens added, “The majority of sexual assaults happen with somebody you know.”
The fear and anger makes that even more important to report to the hospital.
“Nobody deserves to be sexually assaulted,” she said.
Allart said that a teen who reports an assault after they were drinking alcohol won’t get in trouble with the law for the alcohol.
But, she said, they need to know and consider that they put themselves at risk by drinking.
Plunkett gave the legal side of things.
She explained South Dakota laws that punish rape and illegal sexual contact.
Plunkett discussed the difference in criminal punishments for sexual activity at any age, adding that some sexual activity goes on in the community even at lower elementary school age.
“It’s becoming a community and social problem,” she said.
One of the first questions after the four made their presentations came from a girl.
She asked about consequences of an underage girl using sexual activity with an older partner just to get the partner in trouble with the law.
Plunkett said it’s still the responsibility of the older person to say “no.”
She added that under South Dakota law, it’s illegal for anyone under age 16 to be involved in sexual activity even if their parents give permission. The one exception is if the couple involved is married.
Another question was about a girl claiming rape just to get a male in trouble with the law.
Joens said the hospital will treat anyone as a victim.
Plunkett said that the legal investigation looks for the truth, whatever it is.
False reporting is a crime.
Allart said all of these concerns and consequences make it wise for any couple to talk about any sexual activity before doing it: “Sex is a responsibility.”
After the official presentation, the four stayed at the theater to answer questions from students on an individual basis.
Principal Mathew Raba said that the sensitivity of the subject led him to use the school district’s parent notification telephone system to give parents the opportunity to have their students opt out of the program.