Agencies offer straight talk on teen pregnancy

Local teens and a couple parents were presented with a tour de force of pregnancy issues on Thursday at the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Forum in Bishop.
Experts from law enforcement, the courts, Wild Iris and Health and Human Services presented the clear facts on every aspect of sex and young adults, from sexual health to healthy sexuality, to sexting and registering as a sex offender to child support.
Attended by about 100 young adults, the forum was one of the first large organized events sponsored by La Causa, Hispanic Voices for Community Improvement. According to statistics offered at the forum, Hispanics and Blacks have a higher risk of becoming teenaged parents than Caucasians, but La Causa said it recognized the fact teenage pregnancy is an issue that affects all races, and thus offered the forum to the entire community in addition to offering a Spanish interpreter.
Judge Dean Stout, who noted he was “very proud to be a founding member of La Causa,” said the forum was a chance to provide education and access to resources, and not a forum to argue the laws involved. The laws in question concerned the medical rights a minor has without the consent of a parent.
He added that parents who are concerned about what their children may be doing behind their backs should try communicating with their teens. Communication was a key concept in the forum – communication between parents and children about sex, communication between partners, and communication between the public and the agencies that can provide assistant. This communication becomes knowledge, speakers noted, and knowledge is power.
“It’s important everyone know the facts,” Stout said.
Some of the facts are:
• The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed nation in the world
• 95 percent of the annual 1 million teenage pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and one-third end in abortion
• Teen pregnancies have a higher percentage of ending with low-birth weight babies or pre-mature births
• Teen parents are less likely to go to college, more likely to be single parents and end up on welfare
• Teens are more likely to get a sexually transmitted infection – making up nearly half of all new STI cases
Inyo County has 18-38 teenage pregnancies a year, according to Tamara Cohn of Inyo County HHS. She added she was very proud of the 180 teens in Inyo County in 2009 who were proactive enough to seek healthcare counseling and contraceptives. She added that some parents may see this statistic as irresponsible. But, not only is it legal for a minor to seek birth control without a parent’s consent, she thought of it as a very responsible thing for teens to do.
Lynne Rounds, sexual assault and violence prevention coordinator for Wild Iris, spoke on the connections between her area of expertise and teen pregnancy. She explained that teenaged mothers are more susceptible to increased violence. Rounds cited a study in which one in four teenaged girls were having their abusive partners trying to get them pregnant as a power and control issue.
Next were the legal aspects of teenaged pregnancy. Stout started the topic off with the matter of consent. He said there is the consent of a minor to seek medical advice or even have an abortion without a parent’s knowledge or consent. And there is the consent of sexual activity. Stout said that despite the consensual agreement of two minors to have sex with each other, there is no legal manner in which a minor may consent to having sex – period.
Bishop Police Chief Kathleen Sheehan and former prosecutor and attorney Tom Hardy spoke on legal issues.
The two said they were not in attendance to pass judgement but to present the legal facts.
Hardy explained that the Penal Codes for these laws are complicated but he broke it down into simple language. “‘No consent’ equals a crime which is equal to going to prison and equal to having to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.”
Sheehan broke down Penal Code 261.5 on Unlawful Sex, formerly known as statutory rape and the varying degrees of penalties depending on the actions. Unlawful sex with someone not more than three years older than the partner is a misdemeanor; if there is more than three years difference in age the crime is a felony, punishable by prison time. If the perpetrator is over 21 and the victim is under 16 years of age, the maximum penalty is up to four years in prison.
Hardy explained an alarming trend is the act of kids under the age of 14 having sex with kids over the age of 14. He explained that having sex with someone under the age of 14 is considered child molestation.
Sheehan then explained the possible consequences of sexting, or sending lewd or naked pictures of minors through cellular phones. She said the act of sending or forwarding such pictures is considered child pornography, which carries with it the penalty of having to register as a sex offender for life. A registered sex offender will have difficulties finding a place to live and even getting into a college.
“Hitting the send button can cost you for the rest of your life,” Sheehan said.
Commissioner Terry Lee, the local judge who handles child support cases, said, “If you haven’t paid attention to any of the people before me, you’ll eventually have to see me.”
She said Child Support Services will pay for paternity testing to establish paternity for the fathers to determine who exactly the child support responsibilities fall on. Lee added that 25 percent of men who seek a DNA test for paternity are not the biological fathers.
She also answered the question of who and where the responsibility of child support lies with parents who are both minors. She said the responsibility lies with the parents, not the grandparents or taxpayers.
“Taxpayers are not the ones who we want paying for your baby,” Lee said.
For more information on teen pregnancy, call Inyo HHS at (760) 872-1727.