Sunday, May 4, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Girls who “get promiscuous” can wind up dead.
That was the message behind the Metro Police co-sponsored “Choose Purity” event Saturday at the William Pearson Center in North Las Vegas.
“Choose Purity” aimed to show young girls what can happen when they don’t wait until marriage to have sex, according to Officer Regina Coward, president of the Nevada Black Police Association, who said she’d been asked by her church, Victory Outreach Church, to create a community event to go along with its abstinence message.
So what does Coward say happens? Typically four things: sexual assault, gangs, drugs and prostitution.
Avoid sex and avoid those perils, Coward said.
To drive this point home, Coward recruited speakers who could address those dangers.
On the agenda: sex trafficking, tears and a tiara.
The room of about 125 parents and children watched recorded interviews with a pimp and prostitutes, learned modern-day slavery exists in the form of the sex trade, and saw grisly images of people who’d suffered at the hands of hard drugs — such as a woman who’d lost limbs in a methamphetamine lab explosion and a man who’d had his face partially gnawed off by a meth user.
Wide-eyed youngsters watched as two girls gave dramatic performances told from the perspective of one girl who had died after abusing diet pills and one who had died after contracting a sexually transmitted disease as a prostitute. The monologues concluded with each girl getting on a gurney and into a body bag.
When asked whether she’d recruited the “Toe Tag Monologues” to perform to send the message that engaging in premarital sex meant risking death, Coward said, “Yeah, because that’s what’s happening.”
Laura Deitsch, who was a health educator for a local reproductive health organization for more than a dozen years and attended the event, thought otherwise.
“Drugs are real; sex trafficking is real. I don’t know what is real about linking purity with those things.” said Deitsch, who spent her time as an educator teaching comprehensive sex education in the juvenile justice system, charter schools and community centers. “It was a hodgepodge of unrelated fear mongering.”
Speakers didn’t make a large effort to correlate premarital sex and the horrors relayed in their presentations. It’s possible that was intentional.
“I’m not speaking as a perspective from purity and all that,” said Gwendolyn “Lou" Pascoe, director of the Southern Nevada Human Trafficking Task Force, who spoke about sex trafficking. Pascoe said she always gives her presentation at events when given the opportunity.
Some speakers took time to talk about self-esteem, such as Toshia Shaw, founder of Purple W.I.N.G.S., a mentoring agency devoted to helping at-risk girls. Shaw even strayed a bit from the event theme to note that not all girls will choose to abstain. Adrienne Henry, Ms/Mrs Nevada US Continental, let girls try on her crown to help them feel empowered.
Shaw said that although her organization addresses sex education beyond abstinence, she thought the event was good because the children attending were still young enough to choose to wait and the event offered them support in that decision.
Coward said the event, which was done using donations from community organizations and officers from Bolden Area Command and the Nevada Black Police Association volunteering their own time, had to happen because Metro doesn’t have a detail that deals with abstinence.
Coward said Metro didn’t spend any money on the event despite sponsoring it.
Sending a message of abstinence is crime prevention, Coward said.
Coward said she is passionate about the issue because she became pregnant at 16 and wonders whether her life might had been different had she been taught she could say, “No.”
Metro’s message, she said, is straight abstinence, but Southern Nevada Health District was on hand to offer testing and condoms, she said.
Coward said a second event called “Choose Courage” is in the works for boys.
Deitsch said she thought the event wasn’t inclusive of LGBTQ children.
“What message could I give them that’s going to be a real message?” Coward said when the Sun asked whether the event had a message for those children. “I don’t care what you are; my message is be safe. I would like them to wait until they are married.”
When a Sun reporter pointed out that wasn’t a legal option in Nevada, Coward explained it was possible in other states and that her Metro partner had gotten married out of state.
According to the press release for the event, it was an opportunity for Metro to address an issue it usually doesn’t tackle: teen pregnancy.
Research out of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has shown teens who take virginity pledges are just as likely to have sex as teens who don’t promise to wait, but they are less likely to practice safe sex.
Deitsch said that although abstinence is a key part of comprehensive sex education, she didn’t see any facts in this event that a girl could apply to her life, saying nothing presented had anything to do with public health.
Deitsch also wondered whether seeing officers in Metro polo shirts, with guns holstered, in this context was confusing for children.
“I wonder if anybody came away with the idea that premarital sex is criminal,” she said.