Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Letter: Offended by headline concerning Black girls

I was offended at your Editorial of March 12 "48% of Black girls, 14 -19, infected with STD!"

It is bad enough lifting an AP story, but to do so off the discredited Intelligencer Journal is really surprising coming from a website that prides itself on independent journalism and reporting. But the worst part of the "editorial" is the headline, which screams as fact that 1 out of 2 black girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease.

Unless there is thorough and verifiable research to back up this claim, and there clearly wasn't in the AP story, I find this headline patently offensive. To propagate as fact that one out of every two black females is a walking carrier of disease is absurd.

I'd re-think that headline right away. I think some of your black supporters in the clergy and elsewhere would take great offense to your choice in this regard.

Editor's Response (revised):

The Associated Press article indicates the source as "researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." It went on to say, "They released the results Tuesday at an STD prevention conference in Chicago." The writer is correct that initial press reports about studies on occasion are overly simplified, distorted and sensationalized. But we consider it unconscionable to make such an unlikely assumption and thus not provide information of great import for the health of our community.

We do not agree that the headline is "offensive" in itself. It is the information that is jarring. However, as is often the situation when disturbing statistics are attributed to African Americans are concerned, the causes have to do with economic class, not race. We question whether there would be such a difference in the rate of STD infections among black girls in affluent suburban schools.

Even if the report exaggerates by 100%, we would be dealing with an epidemic. Tragically, the first reaction by policy makers and the public is denial. And denial either leads to misguided, repressive policies or continuation of unsound practices.

A major cause for the jump in STD's is the practice of oral sex at a time when boys and girls are discouraged to marry early and girls rationally fear pregnancy. The youths often do not understand that condoms serve to protect from STD's as well as from pregnancy, and that they need to use male condoms for both vaginal and oral sex.

Furthermore, we seldom make condoms available to youths. Especially at an age where they are likely to have frequent sex, they cannot afford to purchase them. They should be made unobtrusively but readily available without charge at all high schools and other youth centers, and sexually active boys and girls should be counseled to make use of them.

Until officials, the public, and especially the African-American community recognize the severity of the public health problem resulting from unprotected sexual contact, many will continue to advocate only abstinence when they should take a more holistic approach for protecting young people.

To avoid offending, we could bury the statistic in the body of the article or omit all together the information so crucial to the well being of inner city youngsters in particular, and youths in general . That may retain viewers, but it wouldn't help protect boys and girls from diseases, possibly even HIV / AIDS.

Concerning the Intelligencer Journal, it and the other Lancaster newspapers have long taken an enlightened and progressive stance when it comes to public health. We at NewsLanc salute the Intell for publishing that story. And we stand by ours.