It’s worth pointing out that while governor of Texas in 1995, George W. Bush signed a law requiring schools in the state to follow abstinence-only education. WIth his entry into the White House, and the advent of Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” abstinence-only education has become a booming business; a profitable business of proselytization, if not prevention. However, if you want to talk results or return on investment, you first have to consider that what’s been going on at one Texas high school doesn’t actually as up to a failure for the abstinence-only movement.
In fact, it doesn’t even matter. It might even lead to an ultimate abstinence-only success. Because success, as we’ll see, is in the eye of the beholder.
But back to that high school sex club.
A high school teacher’s aide and a former student have been indicted in connection with what officials describe as a suspected sex ring that might have been operating at the school in 2001.
Ozen High School teacher’s aide Tommy Floyd Granger, 42, was indicted Thursday by a Jefferson County Grand jury on charges of indecency with a child. Former student Byron Aaron Bell, 25, is accused of sexual assault.
According to court records, Granger is accused of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old female student on Dec. 31, 2001, at a campus building.
Also during that incident, the same female student, a freshman at the time, told investigators she was sexually assaulted by Bell, a former Ozen High School football player.
The victim says the incident was part of an organized effort in which younger girls were provided to senior football players for sex, said Beaumont Police Detective John Boles.
The victim and other students Boles has interviewed mentioned a group that called itself the 3K.
Of course, it’s old news that abstinence-only education doesn’t reduce teenage sexual activity.
In 2003, the Washington Post covered the lackluster results abstinence-only yielded in Texas, including teenage pregnancy rates above the national average, and rising rates of STDs among Texas teens, neither of which implies a decrease of sexual activity among teens in a state drenched in abstinence-only education.
But it doesn’t matter.
Back in 2004, I posted about a study showing that teens who took a “virginity pledge” tended to have fewer sex partners than their non-pledging counterparts (fewer, by the way, is a whole lot more than none) and seem to get married earlier. But get this. Their STD rates are still the same, because they’re much less likely to use condoms. Perhaps that, and the other tidbit reported in 2004 that 15 to 24 year-olds accounted for 50% of new STD cases, is related to the disinformation about condom use that abstinence-only advocates like to spread; propaganda which has become policy under the Bush administration.
But it doesn’t matter.
And in 2005, yet another study of teenagers (in Texas, this time) actually had more sex after receiving abstinence-only education.
But it doesn’t matter.
The 16th International AIDS Conference got underway in Toronto recently (Brad is there and blogging with other activists at Time To Deliver), which prompted the Post to ask why the U.S. has not stemmed HIV. It’s likely the answer is something I posted about earlier this year. Namely, the abstinence-only programs promoted in Africa by America’s christian right, with the same devastating results from disinformation about condom use.
But it doesn’t matter.
To understand why it doesn’t matter, you only have to listen to abstinence-only advocates when they think that no one who opposes them is listening. Michelle Goldberg did that, and recounted it in Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism; most strikingly in an excerpt that includes part of a speech by leading abstinence educator Pam Stenzel.
At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate—a question she regarded as risible. “What he’s asking,” she said, “is does it work. You know what? Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools’ job should not be to keep teens from having sex.” Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!”
“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”
Later in the same talk, she explained further why what “works” isn’t what’s important—and gave some insight into what she means by “truth.” “Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely.”
Of course, as Goldberg points out, Stenzel isn’t just teaching her child. She and others like her are teaching kids in Texas and across the country, as well as people in Africa where the AIDS epidemic has perhaps hit hardest. And, as in war, evidence doesn’t matter for them. Evidence that kids are having more sex, have increased pregnancy rates, and are getting STDS more often doesn’t matter.
But in fact, it’s not beside the point. It’s precisely the point. It’s evidence of their success. To understand that, you have to turn Stenzel’s statements around to understand the logic. AIDS is a victory. HPV is and a hysterectomy at twenty is a victory. An unplanned pregnancy is a victory. It adds up to victory because prevention is not the point.
It doesn’t matter that proper condom use is proven to significantly reduce the chances of STD infection. It doesn’t matter if teenagers are infected with HIV. It doesn’t matter if more teenagers end up getting pregnant or getting others pregnant. It doesn’t if it happens to anyone at all, because saving lives or preventing harm. It only matters that they are punished, and that they are not taught about how they might avoid the potential and possibly life-altering or even fatal consequences of sexual activity, because that would mean they can “sin without consequences.” And that they must not do. Even if it means death.
At first glance, the Ozen high school story is a small one. But the story behind it is much bigger, and potentially dangerous if people don’t wake up to the consequences of what Stenzel and others like her are preaching, because it’s spreading and it’s just as deadly as the epidemics and infections Stenzel and others like her are working desperately not to fight.