Sexual R-E-S-P-E-C-T through S.H.I.P.S.

With pop star Miley Cyrus causing quite the stir with her performance on stage at the latest MTV Video Music Awards this past Sunday night, it might seem timely for there to be a series of educational classes aimed at understanding the link between healthy sexuality and ending sexual violence.

Sexual Health Information for Parents’ Support, or S.H.I.P.S., is an eight-week series of classes created to help end sexual violence. The aim of the class is to enlist and empower parents or parent figures to help create a community where sexual respect is a normal way of life for everyone, thus ending all forms of sexual violence.

The classes will take place on Thursdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 through Oct. 24 at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center. There is no charge, but space is limited. People interested in learning more or wanting to register can contact Diane Harmon at 852-2258.

The eight class sessions will focus on topics including understanding the link between healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention; messages of sexuality that you have grown up with; the culture of sex in entertainment, media, pornography and video games; the culture of sex in advertising, sexting, social media and music; identifying your own values and beliefs; age-appropriate information from birth to sixth grade including do’s and don’ts for parents; age-appropriate information from seventh grade to young adults and how to communicate with pre-teens and teenagers; and class evaluations and follow-up on any of the topics covered. Each 90-minute session will include take-home resources and activities to reinforce the lessons at home.

Harmon, victim advocate and prevention coordinator at the Domestic Violence Crisis Center, said adults try to keep kids safe in all other areas, but healthy sexuality and sexual violence are left to the side. Research has shown that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sexuality are less likely to engage in high risk behaviors as teens than those who do not feel they can talk to their parents about the subject, she added.

Schools provide the background in health class, Harmon said, while parents provide the values. “We (Domestic Violence Crisis Center) help the victim after the crime has happened, but we want to stop it before it happens,” she added.

These classes are for parents or anyone who has influence on children, Harmon said. This is the first time classes like these have been offered, she also said, although there was a pilot program this past April. “We’ll be applying for a grant and hopefully will be able to do more with this,” Harmon added. Harmon noted the Centers for Disease and Prevention and the North Dakota Department of Health have been supportive of these classes.

“There’s definitely a need,” Harmon said.

Parents who participate in S.H.I.P.S. classes will gain an increase in knowledge, comfort levels and competence, Harmon said. “Hopefully they’ll feel more comfortable with this topic, more confident and more competent in being the main source of sexuality education and sexual values.”

Harmon said the link to sex crimes in North Dakota will also be provided in the classes so that people know what is legal and illegal in the state. Alcohol is the number one date rape drug, she added, and that will be talked about, too. “There’s a lot of information to cram into these sessions.”