(Washington, DC, July 8, 2020) – Alabama is failing to enact policies to improve health outcomes for its young people, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Despite the positive impact adolescent vaccines and sexual health education can have on improving health outcomes in the United States, state policies restrict access to information on sexual and reproductive health, leaving many young people unprepared to lower their health risks throughout their lives.
The 65-page report, “‘It Wasn’t Really Safety, It Was Shame’: Young People, Sexual Health Education, and HPV in Alabama,” documents the Alabama state government’s failure to provide young people with comprehensive, inclusive, and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health. Human Rights Watch also found that the state is not addressing barriers to the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine – an effective tool to prevent several types of cancer – and that vaccination rates throughout Alabama remain low.
I’m from New Market, Alabama and I went to a public school called Buckhorn.
There was // abstinence education so there was no sex ed at all. I was told that if I had sex before marriage, you are a cup of water and whenever you have sex with a boy, he spits in it and who else would want to drink that cup of water.
So I’m from Lowndes County, a small rural town in the Black Belt. My first exposure to sexual health was a sexual health class. The beginning we signed these virginity pledges and then we just started doing homework.
Everything I knew about sex I learned from the internet, the back of the bus and watching trash TV.
VOICE OVER Annerieke
In Alabama, schools are not required to provide sexual health education and if they do teach it, the State Code requires a focus on abstinence.
Synauri Boykin, High school biology teacher
We need sex education in schools because children, regardless of what they do, they need to have the education necessary to be able to make the decisions that’s going to impact their lives.
That is the role of a school, a school is supposed to like educate and prepare kids and I do think they deserve to be given as much information as possible to make the right decisions for themselves.
Locator: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE)
University of Alabama Chapter
Abba I wish that more young people understood what an STI is and how it affects the body and how exactly it’s spread.
Annerieke Voice over
Alabama has high rates of sexually transmitted infections or STIs. One STI, the human papillomavirus or HPV, can lead to several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. Alabama has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer deaths in the US and Black women there are twice as likely to die from the disease as white women.
Cervical cancer is highly preventable. The HPV vaccine is an effective cancer prevention tool and protects against most of the strains of HPV that can lead to cancer. Yet in Alabama, vaccination rates are low. Without access to information, young people lack the knowledge to decrease the risk of cervical cancer and safeguard their health.
I feel like a lot of people see the HPV vaccine as something that’s gonna make girls promiscuous so they kind of shun away from that. I know sometimes when I do outreach events and we talk about HPV vaccinations and then girls they’re are really confused, like “what is that?”
Ashley Wagner, Nurse Practitioner
Vaccines are good. They help prevent disease and in this case they help prevent cancer so we need to market them to a level to parents and children, within school community, within churches.
Dr. Pilar Murphy, Associate Professor of Pharmacy, Samford University
I am so big on prevention. If we can teach people how to prevent, if we can teach you to get the HPV vaccination, if we can teach you to get those Paps [PAP smears] on time, maybe I can prevent you from getting cancer.