District Attorney Puts Lives of Wisconsin Teens On the Line

Nikki Serapio

Scott Southworth wants to prosecute educators for teaching young people how to protect their health and lives in the era of AIDS.

Crossposted from Amplify

Scott Southworth wants prosecute educators for teaching young people how to protect their health and lives in the era of AIDS.  

In a move meant to terrorize Wisconsin school teachers and scare administrators away from comprehensive sex ed programs, this Republican District Attorney in Juneau County, Wisconsin, has threatened to press charges against sex ed instructors.

At question is The Healthy Youth Act, a measure signed into law this February by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle. The Act mandates that public school students receive comprehensive sex ed that is medically accurate and age appropriate, and leans on science-based methods that have been proven to work at reducing sexually transmitted infections and unintended teen pregnancies.

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Republicans in the state legislature failed to block the bill, so Southworth has launched a one-man vendetta against any teacher or school system that would dare to actually educate Wisconsin teens.

In a March 24 letter, District Attorney Scott Southworth issued a brazen ultimatum to the County’s teachers, demanding that they end any plans to teach comprehensive sex education during the fall 2010 school year and beyond. If the teachers refuse, Southworth has signaled that he will pursue criminal charges against them for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Southworth’s threat constitutes a direct ideological attack on science-based education policy.  More importantly, it’s a shameless assault on the rights of youth — namely, their right to complete, accurate, and honest information about their sexual health.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story earlier today. Upon examination, Southworth’s apparent legal challenge defies more than logic. In his letter to teachers, he writes:

Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender,” he wrote. “It is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks.

His best argument?  Well, here you go:

[The Healthy Youth Act] promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.

Unfortunately for Southworth, decades of research have shown that teaching young people about sex does not cause increased rates of sexual activity…to say nothing of the fact that Southworth has apparently invented an entirely non-existent definition of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in order to frighten the very people he was elected to serve.

And did you catch Southworth’s causation argument above? If you teach public school students about contraception and making responsible choices, you are somehow promoting sexual assault.

In a way, this gutting and politicizing of science and law aren’t surprising. These ideologues use the same old tricks: they prominently point to something designed to scare the public, and pretend that it’s synonymous with something that most people actually (and rationally) support. Marriage equality would be just like trying to marry your dog! Abortion is the same as genocide!

And apparently sex education will brainwash Wisconsin youth into sudden and uncontrollable promiscuity…Just because Scott Southworth says it will! This terrifying prospect of adolescent knowledge and responsibility must be stopped at all costs — even if it means throwing teachers in jail.

Hopefully, school administrators, teachers, parents and young people — not to mention the Wisconsin State Legislature — will stand up to Southworth’s shameless bullying. He may not have legal precedent on his side, but the far-right has proven time and time again that it is willing to attack science in the name of ideology.

But this time, it’s not just about politics. The lives of Wisconsin’s teens hang in the balance.

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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