RACINE — Hundreds of teens and preteens in Racine County reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases last year, one of the worst rates in Wisconsin.
Thirty-three percent of Racine County’s total reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases in 2012 came from teenagers and young adults between the ages of 10 and 19; eight reports of chlamydia came from teens 14 or younger.
When it comes to teen STDs, Racine County is one of the worst in the state — No. 3 next to Kenosha County and Brown County.
“I was surprised,” said Samantha Perry, Project Manager at the Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency.
More than surprised or even shocked, Perry said, she was spurred to action. Those numbers, she said, reinforced the “urgency, intensity of focus” in educating young adults before they make a mistake.
Changing those statistics has become the target of community action, and starting this week, leaders with the Personal Responsibility Education Program are reaching out to parents.
The Racine-Kenosha Community Action Agency is the convener of a stakeholder group of parents, health care providers and other partners who are working to increase community awareness of and reduce the instance of teen pregnancy and STDs among adolescents in Racine. The Racine Family YMCA is one of the participating stakeholders, and receives federal funding on an annual basis through the Affordable Care Act to provide the PREP program.
The idea of reaching out to parents is to “try to begin to get some traction on this and try to see what action we can collectively take to reduce the problem,” Perry said.
Of counties with comparable caseloads, Racine adolescents experience the third-highest rates of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis in Wisconsin, according to 2012 data reported to the state Department of Health Services.
According to that data, that’s a rate of about 2 of every 100 Racine County youths age 10-19 who are likely to report one of those sexually transmitted infections.
The bulk of those cases — typically around 90 percent or more — occur in the City of Racine, where 294 adolescents reported having an STD in 2012.
“With the number of cases, this could be anyone’s kid, grandchild, niece, nephew,” Perry said.
But statistics like these don’t always enter the conversation when and if parents have “the talk” about sex and safety with their children, according to Sarah Martin, PREP Administrator with the YMCA.
She read from a letter she received from a 15-year-old in PREP’s evidence-based sexual education program. The boy wrote that he’d never learned about “trusting girls” before, noting “even if you feel like she’s faithful to you and you don’t need a condom, you should use one for safety.” According to Martin, “That’s the kind of thing I’m hearing.”
She said other students have told her that the PREP program convinced them to wait until marriage to have sex. The program emphasizes abstinence first, but also offers guidance on sexual health and safety.
PREP is hosting discussion groups on the topic starting this week, and starting with adolescents’ parents.
“We’re looking to get, first of all, (parents’) knowledge of this issue in itself,” Perry said.
She said they want to engage with parents and other caregivers “to put a voice” to the problem of adolescent STDs, and to drive community awareness.
The parent discussion groups, which start this week, are aimed at easing parents into having that conversation, finding out how they feel and what issues they see.
“I think our main focus, from the discussion groups, is to see: What does our community already know? ... and what they don’t know about this,” Martin said.
After they answer that question, the discussion groups will culminate with a community forum held in October.
BY THE NUMBERS
Adolescent STDs in 2012
Reported cases in Racine County of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, ages 10-19:
318: Total cases
294: Cases in the City of Racine
24: Cases elsewhere in Racine County
Source: City of Racine Health Department and Wisconsin Department of Health Services
IF YOU GO
The Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency is hosting two discussion groups this month centered around STD rates in Racine. They are a chance to learn more and offer input on the subject.
WHEN: Tuesday, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
WHERE: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, 1134 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive
WHEN: Monday, Sept. 23. 4:30-5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Racine/Kenosha Community Action Agency, 2113 N. Wisconsin St.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the description of leadership and funding for the Personal Responsibility Education Program.