Presentation for the Sullivan County Health Department

Sarah White and Cindi Huss (RISE cofounders and codirectors) will offer a presentation on trauma-informed care and its intersection with sexuality education at the May 14 Sullivan County Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (SCAPPI) meeting.

In this context trauma-informed care involves creating safe, empowering learning spaces for trauma survivors—even when we don’t know who they are. Trauma literally rewires the brain, so teaching sensitive topics like sex ed might trigger painful responses that makes survivors less able to absorb the information they need.

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In Tennessee, abstinence-only and abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula retraumatize survivors, who hear that they are wrong or dirty or have somehow allowed something to happen to them. It also shames people who have made or will make the decision to become sexually active without giving them the knowledge and skills they need to make healthy decisions about their boundaries, protecting themselves from STIs and pregnancy, and developing healthy relationships and recognizing warning signs of unhealthy ones. Students in this environment are less likely to believe that the instructor is a trusted adult they can ask questions of.

Leading with shame makes youth less receptive. But teaching with compassion, with skill and deftness to assure all students that they are safe, in control of their learning, and valued for who they are makes a difference. It opens youth up to new information and ideas and builds trust and respect in the classroom.

Cind HussComment