Department of Health Director of Chronic Disease Division, Catherine Anorld Lewis, recently organized two community health events to reach out to a group D.O.H. has deemed as being among the most vulnerable populations: the V.I.’s youth. Her presentations were aimed specifically at 13 to 18-year-old Virgin Islanders. On hand for each event were health, education and counseling experts who shared personal stories and conducted teen-centered focus groups on risky behaviors, healthy lifestyles, and building healthy relationships, according to a release the department issued Monday.
Tarik McMillan, a mental health counselor conducted focus groups as part of the outreach effort aimed at V.I. juveniles. According to the release, while the discussions were intended to provide students with tips and tools to help them navigate some of life’s challenges, both sessions ended up being a learning experience for everyone involved; the students, D.O.H. staff and the expert partners alike.
Mr. McMillan geared his discussion towards providing students with a safe environment where they could have an uninhibited conversation about personal experiences, the release said. At the same time, he wove life-skill information and tips into the discussion so that students could understand they had options and don’t have to succumb to intimidation, coercion or bullying that is so common today.
“No,” Mr. McMillan said, “is a complete sentence. You don’t have to give a reason why you feel some way or don’t want to do something. Your response should be respected as your complete response.”
He added, “Unfortunately, especially with the issue of consent, people will try to wear you down and keep asking you for reasons why you are responding a certain way. They do this because they don’t respect your answer. They think if they keep asking you, you’ll change your decision.”
Boundaries, according to Mr. McMillan, are yet another sensitive area. They are different for everyone. “What one person may be comfortable with isn’t necessarily the same limitation or restriction that another person would find acceptable. However, once someone indicates what their boundaries are, others should accept and respect those declarations as part of building a healthy relationship between the two individuals,” he explained.
Mr. McMillan indicated that, ironically the two group discussions couldn’t have been more different. The St. Croix session was made up of mostly females while the St. Thomas session was comprised of just male participants. Their issues and experiences materially different.
On St. Croix, for instance, the female participants shared stories of the first time they experienced being the object of a “cat call.” The sole male participant in the group, although the same age and from the same neighborhood, was shocked by what he heard and felt puzzled and disassociated by their stories. According to Mr. McMillan, the young man was unaware that that type of activity was going on and was taken aback upon hearing the stories from several young women.
Revealed to Mr. McMillan during a sidebar conversation during the St. Croix event was alarming information on a disturbing trend which could place young, inexperienced individuals at substantial risk. One student related a story about someone being taken to Point Udall and given the option, “sex or walk home”, according to the release.
Point Udall is an isolated location on the far end of St Croix. It is a long way from homes or businesses, has no street lightening and oftentimes no cell phone reception. The long walk home from that area would be very daunting and dangerous experience. It makes sense that given that threatening situation a young person might feel they have no option.
On St. Thomas, the male group focused on issues not necessarily related to sexual issues but instead on not having their decisions respected by their peers. The young men referenced experiences they had online, especially with cyber games.
Sheelene Gumbs, crisis counselor of the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix noted that clients to her office were experiencing greater numbers of cases involving cyber bullying, stalking, revenge porn and an array of other cyber-related assaults. “The world is changing and there is a great deal of cyber activities and crimes that are placing individuals, young and old, at substantial risk. Getting information to the public about how to protect themselves is the key to helping prevent such instances,” Ms. Gumbs said. The Women’s Coalition was established in 1981.
The release said D.O.H. has been making an effort to reach each age group and provide tips and guidance on healthy choices and lifestyles, Mrs. Arnold-Lewis said. The deportment already has programs specifically tailored to pre-school, elementary, junior high and high school students and plans to further develop this outreach activity to strengthen its relationship with each age group, she said.
Experts who shared the stage on St. Thomas included Nicole A. Craigwell-Syms, D.O.H. deputy commissioner, Whitman Browne, former principal of Addelita Cancryn Junior High School and the former Kirwan Terrace Elementary School and currently the Principal of the 7th Day Adventist School on St. Thomas, along with Anya Stewart, acting executive director of the Family Resource Center.
For more information on bullying, visit the National Sexual Assault website at: https://www.nsvrc.org or www.Bullying.com; the Department of Health’s Chronic Disease Division at: 340-277-7609; and Mrs. Arnold-Lewis via email at: [email protected]
For information or assistance with a domestic violence issue, contact 340-776-STOP (emergencies) or 340-776-3966 on St. Thomas. They can also be reached via their website: www.USVIFRC.org. The Women’s Coalition of St. Croix can be reached at 340-773-9273 (available 24/7), or via their www.wcstx.org .