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Healthy relationships begin with youth

Dez Loreen
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 02, 2007

INUVIK - Young presenters talked about sexual assault and building healthy relationships to students at Samuel Hearne school earlier this week.

The presentation was organized by Victim's Services and the Department of Health and Social Services.

"The idea is to make clear what sexual assault is and what a healthy relationship might look like," said Joanna Lehrer, one of the presenters. "We want to try to help prevent incidents from happening."

Film strips and realistic scenarios were used to illustrate these messages.

Lehrer was joined by other presenters who spoke about the importance of knowing when to say no.

"We have to let the students know that there are people they can talk to about these things," said Lehrer.

Counsellors were available for the students to talk to in private.

Lehrer said the Victim's Services office supplied information about sexual assault cases in Inuvik.

"Sharing this information is important because there are approximately 31 cases of sex-related crimes in Inuvik every year," said Lehrer.

Since only about 12 per cent of sexual assaults are ever reported to police, she estimated there are actually more than 300 sexual assaults in Inuvik every year.

Lehrer said youth aged 13-18 are at the highest risk of sexual assault and that most people she meets know someone who has been sexually assaulted.

Lehrer said she got involved with the presentation because not enough attention is paid to the subject in the community.

"I haven't seen this issue raised in the community so we thought this would be a great way to start discussions," said Lehrer.

Two films were shown to the students, both dealing with examples of sexual assault.

The first film was about a stepfather sexually assaulting his stepdaughter. The students were asked to identify who was at fault for the sexual assault.

Some students said they thought the young girl was at fault for not telling her mother about the continuing assaults. Others thought the man was at fault for assaulting the youth. The second film was about a male babysitter sexually assaulting the boy he was left to care for.

After the films, Ophelia Leone from the family counselling centre spoke to the students about their bodies.

"Just because your body reacts to something does not mean you like it," said Leone.

Alvin Merasti, another of the presenters, spent some time after the films talking with a group of male students about their concerns and questions.

"By the end of the workshop everyone knew that no means no and that sexual assault and sexual abuse can happen regularly," said Merasti.

"The youth I work with are very keen on how healthy relationships work."