Thursday, July 10, 2008

really, your kids are having sex. like seriously.

Before school let out for the summer, I was doing some HIV outreach near a DC high school which I've heard has the highest graduation rate in the entire city. It also has a day care for the students with babies.

Getting to work as early as I do, I often see these girls with their babies on their way to school. They all look so young. It makes me incredibly sad that children are having children. I'm very aware of the fact that kids that age are having sex. But I'm not desensitized to the point where I don't feel bad when seeing a kid with a baby in her arms.

Still, kudos to the school for allowing those girls to continue their education.

Obviously those kids are sexually active. However, I am forbidden from doing outreach at the school or handing out condoms to anyone under 18. So, when I passed by the school a few weeks ago and saw what I saw, I seriously considered breaking the law.

There are windows in the school's stairwells and I saw two kids going at it. Clearly, they should've been in class. And I could've sworn this school had security guards or maybe some scary looking hall monitors. I grabbed one of my condom kits and when the two finally came up for air, they looked out the window and saw me waving the condoms at them. My aide and outreach partner laughed at me. "What are you doing?" she asked. "Clearing these kids are doing it. Hopefully not now, but later, I'm sure. They better use a condom, damn it," I replied. If they're going to have sex, they might as well protect themselves, right?

With school out for the summer, I've been seeing more and more kids out during the day when I do outreach. Since I'm not on school grounds, I'm tempted to talk to them. However, the grant that funds my program forbids us from reaching out to anyone under 18. So, when a 13 year old came up to me and asked for some condoms, my immediate reaction was to tell him, "No, sorry, you're not old enough." His reply: "I'm old enough to have sex."

Touché, little punk. Touché.

The activist in me said, Hey, these kids are having sex. You have an obligation to give them the tools they need to protect themselves. The goody-two-shoes in me said, The agency funding your program doesn't want you reaching out to youngsters. In addition, the goody-two-shoes in me shook her head at me and looked at me with disappointment.

With school out, I know I'll be encountering kids like these more and more. I need to come up with a solution that I can live with.

The activist in me is winning the battle inside my head to determine what is the 'right' thing to do.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, it seems like the story with the 13 year old was not about you reaching out, he came to you. Is that a possible loophole?

Anyway, despite the fact that they are having sex at 13 I believe they really are too young. They don't fully understand the consequences.

Can you talk about HIV with the kids without handing out condoms? It would be a start...

(or maybe your org already does that)

lizzie said...

anon--yes, the 13y.o. did come to me while i was doing outreach. my dilemma is, the next time a kid comes to me, do i again say no because of the age issue?

10 years ago when doing HIV education at a jr. high in L.A. while still in college, a 9 y.o. asked me some really graphic questions about oral sex. this was 10 years ago. considering the neighborhood i was in then and now, it would not surprise me if this kid was already having sex.

just b/c the kids don't understand the consequences (and clearly they don't since their school has a day care), doesn't mean they're not going to experiment with their bodies. i would rather prepare them and educate them than to refuse either or both.

yes, my org. already provides support for teens, especially gay or questioning ones (condoms and HIV tests are offered for those 16+). but the teens have to seek it at the clinic. in my opinion, that particular program is not doing enough street outreach.

thanks for offering your opinion on the post in a constructive manner. :)

aneo said...

Ouch -- difficult one. I'm with you on the need to provide condoms (and a good talking to about what happens...), but you can't contravene the letter of the law.

The spirit, however, is another matter! So my suggestions are:

"Oops, I dropped/ seem to have forgotten a few condoms over there. And a pamphlet on how to use them correctly."

"I am only allowed to give condoms to people over the age of 18. How old did you say you were again?"

"I'm not supposed to give condoms to children. Ask that [insert random stranger] over there to ask me for some."

Of course if you're anything like me then the spirit of the law will probably stop you feeling comfortable enough to say/do any of these!!!! Oh well.

So, my last and more law-abiding suggestion is to get some pamphlets from the youth program at your work and take them with you, telling any kids who approach you that they can get free condoms at the actual clinic and handing them a pamphlet. You'll be acting on the other program's behalf.

If the program doesn't have a pamphlet then I suggest you offer to help them make one that can be easily photocopied (4 small ads to one page, etc). Word is a crap design program in general but it has its uses...

Oh and again, yay for doing what you do :D

aneo said...

p.s. just re-read your comment and noticed that your work's youth program is only for 16+. Wha'????

So maybe get some stuff from MetroTeenAIDS?

Peter said...

How about walking around with a friend who is not affiliated to your program. You can distribute condoms to him (as a sexually active adult who needs condoms) and then when your back is turned, he can give them out to the kids.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Two thoughts (aka: loopholes): First, if the younger-than-18 person approaches you and asks for something, he/she approached you. You didn't approach them and you can say as much. If a child asked me, I'd hand it to them without saying one word.

Second, you could say to the inquiring child, "Technically, I'm not allowed to give this to you, but I'm going to set it down right here and I'm going to look away." You haven't directly given it to him/her and, if anyone says you did, you can counter by saying you set it down and when you came back to get it, it was gone.

Just my two cents...

allan said...

Wow, in the stairwell. This is why I'm scared to have kids now. I'm deathly afraid to have a girl too.

lizzie said...

aneo (1&2): i knew you'd understand. i really like your suggestions. this kid issue didn't become a problem until school let out. i think i'm going to buy some pamphlets for their age/reading level (we have the funding. our funder doesn't need to know who they are for) and hand them out when i do outreach. screw the law! i'm all about the spirit!

also, metroteenAIDS is on the other side of the city.

peter--good suggestion. if i didn't see it, it didn't happen, right?

JM Tewkesbury--even if approached, i'm certain i'm not allowed to give them condoms or offer them an HIV test due to the stipulations laid out in our funding agreement.

however, ur second thought is worth trying out. it would definitely alleviate any feelings of guilt i would have about breaking the rules.

allan--having kids in this world is definitely a scary prospect. this is why i'm glad i have cats. i treat them like my kids and i don't have to worry about my girly kitty getting pregnant because she's been spayed.

Capitol Hill 20210 said...

What a stupid law, honestly!

I love what you do for a living.

Honestly, I would throw them some condoms and run..............
or Tewksbury's idea is a good one.

Julia said...

That seems very brave of you, to want to help those students before they become statistics. It's just pathetic (not to mention ridiculous) that you have to be 18 to get condoms, when most of those girls are getting pregnant before they reach that age. Goes to show how screwed up the laws are in this country.

Anonymous said...

I would have told the 13 year old that you would give him condoms after he went and volunteerd at the school day care center for an hour. I bet you he wouldn't want a condom afterll. LOL!

Also, I used to tell friends in high school thinking about having sex that if they weren't mature enough (aka too embarassed) to go buy condoms , they weren't mature enough to be having sex. (but then again I have no idea if there is an age requirement to purchase, so...)

Keep up the good fight!

Teacher Chic said...

I really admire what you are doing with your program. Most of my students were born to teenage parents, some as young as 13. Please find a loophole to hand out condoms to teens!

Alex said...

Great post! Remember that it is possible to wear more than one hat. Especially if you encounter kids on your break (which is probably yours to take whenever you want) or after school. Then you can definitely give them some condoms that you have. Since DOH gives out condoms for free using this web form you don't have to give out the condoms paid for by your grant.

Also you can always give out information and that isn't outreach. You can say, "sorry my program doesn't allow me to give you condoms but you can always get some at MetroTeen AIDS

651 Pennsylvania Ave SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 543-9355

Or Planned Parenthood offices which are located through out the city.

If someone wants to be tested for HIV you can point them to the Google Map that David Mariner created
which details most of the places that a person can get tested.

Keep up the good work! And remember let the activist win some of those back and forths the goody-two-shoes will get over it.

Alex Lawson

lizzie said...

CH 20210--seriously, it is a stupid rule/law/ordinance. whatever prohibits me from doing outreach on school grounds is not in the best interest of the students.

julia--thanks. i'm not sure if i'm brave, but someone's gotta help these kids and i'm in a position to do so.

shell--volunteer at the day care! awesome suggestion. yeah, they should all spend some time there, especially the boys.

not sure if there's an age requirement to buy condoms, but there's a problem with the condom supply at the CVS's here. they are locked up. you have to ask an employee to get them for you, which can be embarassing as a kid or an adult.

teacher chic--oh wow. where do you teach? my sister's a teacher too and her students' parents are younger than she is. trust me, i'll reach out to these teens some how.

alex--thanks for the compliment and the links to resources.

i read on FightHIVinDC that HAA was out of condoms. i'll check to see if they're giving them out again.

and don't worry. the activist in me wins out most of the time. :)

Janel said...

I totally support that "I can only give condoms to people over 18. How old are you again...?" ;) approach.

And in reply to the comment that said "Anyway, despite the fact that they are having sex at 13 I believe they really are too young. They don't fully understand the consequences." be careful not make ageist, blanket statements like that. Clearly the child who asked for condom had some idea of what he was getting himself into. His age is not an indicator of his intelligence, and we can't assume how much experience someone has had by a certain age. For every 13 year old that's clueless, there's probably another who's very aware.