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'Slut-shaming' at George Washington High?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some George Washington High School students are upset by the remarks an abstinence-only speaker made at an assembly at the school earlier this week.

Pam Stenzel, a Christian speaker dedicated to teaching teens about "the consequences, both physical and emotional, of sex outside of marriage," told GW students in an assembly on Tuesday that if they have had any premarital sexual contact, they're "impure," student Katelyn Campbell said.

Campbell said Stenzel kept religion out of the conversation but that she still plans to file a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. Campbell called Stenzel's presentation "slut-shaming" and said it was filled with false statistics and meant to "scare students into abstaining from sex.

"Many students felt uncomfortable with her outright condemnation of any and everyone who has ever had premarital sexual contact," Campbell said. "Stenzel's overall attitude was that any type of sex will guarantee the contraction of an STD or an unwanted pregnancy."

Campbell said several students had recorded the presentation, where Stenzel allegedly made comments like, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you" and "I could look at any one of you in the eyes right now and tell if you're going to be promiscuous."

Campbell and a male student, who wished to remain anonymous, said Stenzel often screamed into the microphone and used an unsettlingly loud tone throughout the presentation.

"While her intentions may have been good, her tone was very loud, like she was shaming everyone in the audience. She was making girls cry. There were pregnant girls in the audience and she was implying, if you had sex, you're not an OK person," the male student said. "The only reason I am standing up against it is so other schools in West Virginia don't have to hear this."

In her YouTube videos, Stenzel says birth control makes a woman "10 times more likely to contract a disease . . . or end up sterile or dead." Many of the videos warn of sexually transmitted diseaes and also say, "Sex could damage you for the rest of your life." Sex also could lead to "scarred fallopian tubes and cancer . . . and you need to ask Jesus for forgiveness."

In addition, Stenzel points to anorexia, bulimia and "cutting" as after-effects of abortion.

GW parent Cheri Callaghan considered protesting the assembly at GW by handing out condoms to students Tuesday.

"The nurse at the school is not even allowed to talk to the girls about the specifics of birth control in a class setting. Rumor has it that the assembly today is on safe sex and STDs. I thought, 'Wow, now we're getting somewhere.' Come to find out it's 'a motivational speaker' on abstinence," Callaghan posted to Facebook the same day.

Students took to social media during the assembly, posting messages to Twitter like, "She doesn't like you if you're not a virgin" and "I hope people are calling in about the sex ed speaker this morning. Shaming girls for having sex isn't teaching abstinence."

School administrators said they did not find Stenzel's messages offensive.

GW Principal George Aulenbacher said he was present for the majority of the assembly and said he didn't hear any out-of-line comments.

"I didn't hear anything like that. Anytime you talk about sex with any teen student, it can be uncomfortable," he said. "The only way to guarantee safety is abstinence. Sometimes, that can be a touchy topic, but I was not offended by her. The intent was to educate and talk to kids about making good decisions."

Aulenbacher said only one parent complained to him about the assembly, and no students came to him with concerns.

However, Kanawha County school board member Becky Jordon, who attended the assembly, said dozens of students left the assembly and "complained before they even heard [Stenzel] speak."

Jordon also did not stay for the entire assembly but said what she heard was not inappropriate for students.

"As a parent and a board member, I was glad she was there. Kids all over Kanawha County need to hear her message," she said. "I'm just sad it couldn't have been in all high schools and middle schools. Kids need to understand that what they think is one night of fun can change their lives forever."

Jordon said she could understand how Stenzel's presentation could be considered aggressive.

"It was a little rough, but I'm not complaining," she said. "The audience wasn't the most polite, either. It was very sharp and loud, but if she just stood there passively, she wouldn't be heard."

A spokesman for Stenzel did not comment Thursday.

Stenzel also spoke at Riverside High School on Tuesday, and Principal Valery Harper said she did not receive any complaints. Harper could not attend the event, but said she researched online and watched YouTube videos of Stenzel "to make sure it was appropriate for students and our health standards."

According to Speaker Mix, a database to help people book public speakers for events, Stenzel charges between $4,000 and $6,000 for an appearance.

County Superintendent Ron Duerring said no school money was used to book Stenzel. Aulenbacher said the events were sponsored by private donations, but said he would not reveal the cost.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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