By now, most everyone has heard the story of Cassidy Goodson, a 14-year-old Lakeland, Florida, girl who admitted to authorities that she secretly gave birth to a nine-pound baby in her mobile home bathroom. Not knowing what to do with the baby, and fearing she would get in trouble, Goodson told authorities she strangled him.
According to the Huffington Post, a Florida court ruled earlier this month that the high school freshman would be tried as an adult for first-degree murder and child abuse. If convicted, she faces life in prison.
Amid all the ensuing talk about tougher laws and pro-fetus legislation, Alternet reports that this tragedy could have been avoided had Goodson received a modicum of community and school support in the form of real sex education.
At the Polk County School district, where Cassidy Goodson was a student, kids are taught strict abstinence-only education programs, which leave students like her without any understanding of human anatomy or biology, let alone contraception.
In Florida, sex ed (or more accurately, abstinence-only programs) aren’t legally required to provide students with medically factual information, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Instead, these educational courses generally focus on teaching children that sex within marriage is the only allowable framework for intimacy, and contraception is only permissable between a husband and wife. In fact, Jamie Kress, Polk County’s Prevention Program facilitator, confirmed that part of their lesson plan to Alternet.
It echoes another abstinence-only education program, this one in California, that recently came under fire for similar issues; parents and the ACLU sued the school district for jeopardizing students' health by not educating them on sexual safety. The ACLU reports that at Clovis, California high schools, students were being taught that choices like getting plenty of rest and hanging out in groups are activities that prevent pregnancy. The lessons also focused on teaching girls in particular to feel a deep sense of shame for being sexually active and for getting pregnant. In fact, one of the lesson plans quoted by the ACLU in its lawsuit against the district said kids were being taught that a girl who has sex is akin to an “old dirty shoe.”
A report from the Florida State Senate says the age of consent in Florida is 18. Despite not having any education on the subject, and no community support, Cassidy Goodson, a 14-year-old child, who cannot even legally drive a car, was left to her own devices to live out her pregnancy in secret, and with the expectation by the state that she would make reasonable and sound decisions. Expecting any child to demonstrate reason in the best of circumstances, let alone just after she's given birth in secret alone in a bathroom, seems unrealistic.
The Huffington Post reports that members of her family suspected Cassidy Goodson might be pregnant because of her expanding belly, but her mother refused to believe their suspicions.
Also telling is that in none of the reports or police interviews has anyone made mention of finding out who impregnated this child. As the focus remains strictly on punishing Cassidy Goodson, no one’s thought to even ask where or who the boy responsible is―and if he’s older, why isn’t he being locked up as well?
Even when we take Goodson out of the equation, statistically abstinence-only programs are ineffectual at best. According to The Raw Story, though the U.S. is currently enjoying a steady decline in teen pregnancy rates, states that teach abstinence-only education are showing the highest numbers of underage pregnancies. ThinkProgressHealth reports that a 2007 federal study found that abstinence-only programs had “no impact on rates of sexual abstinence.” But most alarming is this final statistic from Guttmacher: Students who receive abstinence-only education are no less likely to have sex, but they are far more likely to forgo using any protection.
If we’re going to hold kids to a basic standard of behavior, we have to give them the tools to make that behavior possible. In Cassidy Goodson’s case, we took all of the tools out of her hands, and now we’re going to punish her for it.
What do you think of abstinence-only education programs? Let us know in the Comments.