The Fourth R: Relationships

Alaska schools have introduced a new program to curb the high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence experienced by teens across the state. “The Fourth R” is a curriculum designed to help reduce teen pregnancy, drinking and violent relationships by teaching young people refusal and delay skills which experts believe is particularly useful in combating peer pressure.

This type of education is important for Alaska’s teens since the state usually has the nation’s highest per capita rates of sexual assault and ranks in the top five for domestic violence, according to Lori Grassgreen, director of prevention projects for the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, who helped develop the program. “The Fourth R” was created in Canada a few years ago, but state health and education experts and Native organizations have tailored it to suit Alaska’s population and specific issues.

There has been a conscious effort to make sure the program is culturally sensitive to Alaska’s Native populations which often have higher rates of alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual assault. Additionally, the administrators believe it will help rural communities, which also face the same issues as Native communities, since attitudes about what constitutes a loving relationship are learned at home.

In addition to using this curricula in schools, family shelters are adopting this program because it heavily concentrates on communication and decision-making.  The idea is to have community leaders serve as role models outside of the school, providing additional reinforcement and support for teens.

Research showed that in Canada the curriculum was effective in reducing relationship violence, and taught students skills to reject sexual advances and peer pressure; giving the Alaska administrators evidence of the efficacy of the program. I hope that this pilot in Alaska will open the path for other states to follow their lead, creating a generation of healthy young people that are firm in their boundaries and can advocate for themselves.

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