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CURRENT ISSUE:  February 18, 2008
VOL. 46, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
Free clinic to open at cathedral
Slain teacher had begun studies in pastoral ministry
New online training helps
teens identify, avoid abuse

Uncle Jack tells his teenaged niece Alyssa that no one will believe her if she claims he’s touching her inappropriately on their so-called shopping trips together. It will be “their little secret,” he says. Alyssa writes in her online diary that she just wants to run away.

What should Alyssa do?

The answers lie in a new online training course about abuse that is being offered to some 9th- and 10th-graders in the Diocese of Oakland.

The Online Teen Safety Training, which went live this month, uses teen situations like Alyssa’s to help students identify and cope with emotional, sexual and physical abuse and neglect.

A safety curriculum covering abuse is required by the diocese, explained Nancy Libby, coordinator of the diocesan Safe Environment Project.

With its interactive format, the online course presents a new “snappier” option for the curriculum that is “very different” from the books and Web sites in use, Libby said. “It is more dynamic. . . . It is very MTV-ish.”

The course uses brightly-colored teen characters, looking part Barbie doll, part paper doll, to bring to life statistics and facts about abuse.

Information is presented in a teen context, involving examples with young people being pressured to have sex or dating someone who is violent.

Students flip through electronic pages of learning material, which include vibrant graphics and links to video, and then interact with computer characters in role-playing scenarios.

The “Whose fault is it anyway?” exercises, for example, deal with physical abuse. The first question reads: “Dan, Sue’s boyfriend, sometimes hits Sue. She’s not breaking up with him because she knows he loves her, and he says he’s gonna change. Whose fault is it that Dan hits Sue?”

Computer figures standing in a cartoon-like classroom give their answers via sound bubble, and trainees are told to click on the character with the correct response.

Pop-up messages instantly reveal whether the trainee’s choice was right or wrong, and why. The student can only advance to the next page after getting the correct answer.

The sound bubble above a teen male in a red sweater blames Sue. “It’s her fault. If Sue stays with Dan after he hit her, she probably did something to tick him off,” it reads.

Clicking on that character yields a “Nope, try again!” displayed in red. The explanation says, “This doesn’t mean that the victim is responsible for the abuse — no one deserves to be abused. Even if Sue ticked off her boyfriend, that’s no reason for him to abuse her.”

“No way. It’s Dan’s fault,” says a strawberry-blond coed. “That’s correct!” pops up in green upon selecting her. “Even if you know the person hurting you loves you, it’s not OK for them to cause you physical (or emotional) pain. You’re worth being treated with respect,” it says.

More than 20 such scenarios and multiple-choice quizzes cover other teen-relevant topics, including parental discipline. For instance, is it abusive for a mother to deny her daughter a cell phone? No.

And dating abuse — is it abusive for a girl to try to isolate her boyfriend from his friends, family or other girls? Yes.

In addition to these exercises, there are links to resources for finding help, news stories, and peer accounts involving abusive situations.

Although the coverage is broad, Libby said students should be able to complete the course in 60 to 90 minutes, using school or home computers. They will receive a certificate of completion to give their teachers for credit, she said.

Libby does not yet know which Catholic schools and parish religious education programs will use the online training. Those who do will absorb the cost of $4 per participant, she said.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco and the dioceses of San Jose and Santa Rosa will also use the course, which is offered through Walnut Creek-based LawRoom. LawRoom also provides safety training for adults in the Oakland Diocese.

Libby thinks the edgier training will be successful, and eventually will be offered for junior high students and high school upperclassmen.

“Kids are so in tune with technology,” Libby said, “It’s like a no-brainer; you have to reach them that way.”
The diocesan Safe Environment for Children Project also oversees the screening of all employees and volunteers in the diocese who work with children, trains parish and diocesan staffs on the recognition of abuse and its prevention, and develops curriculum for use in parish schools and religious education programs.

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