EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of opinion editorials written by University of Cincinnati faculty and staff who took part in a seminar by The OpEd Project, which focuses on increasing the range of voices and quality of ideas we hear in the world. It was funded, in part, by the Scripps Howard Foundation.
CINCINNATI—Ten-year-old Amara* lives in a newly renovated low-income housing project in Cincinnati, which the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development called a “model for what we should be doing around the country.”
She is one of a dozen girls, between the ages of 7 and 16, participating in “Worth the Wait,” a Life Skills group at the development that combines practical skills—like how to make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches—with building self esteem and encouraging abstinence.
As an African-American living in Cincinnati, Amara is nearly three times as likely to get pregnant by the age of 17 than her white peers, and three times as likely as a pregnant white teen to give birth prematurely.
Despite good intentions, research shows that abstinence education is unlikely to protect Amara from real dangers that surround her every day. Her haunting story serves as a wake-up call about the vulnerability of young girls, especially poor young girls, in our city and in our society.
“I was shocked,” wrote one of my students after her first day with the “Worth the Wait” program. “I had no idea that their living situations would be that extreme, and I couldn’t believe the stories I was hearing.”
Students told me about a game that Amara and her peers play regularly called “Hide and Go Freak.”
Older men ask the young girls to hide, then seek them out to “freak” (which, according to the Rap Dictionary, is slang for having sex). While Amara suggested that some girls seemed to play the game willingly, she and her friends hide in the hope that they won’t be found. For Amara, it was hard to find a safe hiding place.