There are many lessons parents could learn from the ghastly death of Phylicia Barnes ("Johnson guilty in Barnes case," Feb. 7). Though the media and the justice system were taken to task by the victim's family when she disappeared, the beautiful young woman, it seems, was not under the watchful eye of her parents. Encouraged by her adult, irresponsible and egregious sister, Ms. Barnes was engaging in dangerous sexual activities with a far older man than she. This man ultimately killed her and disposed of her body.
Although we are a society awash in sexual images and sexual violence toward women, we are squeamish about sex education, and we approach it in a puritanical and ignorant manner. Parents should discuss sexually transmitted diseases, various forms of birth control, the importance of sexual assertiveness, the dangers of having sex with older partners, the loss of sexual inhibitions and impaired judgment with drugs and alcohol, sadomasochism, various sexual preferences and proclivities and the full panoply of sexual methods and mores with their teens. Teens are naturally curious about their own bodies and they are experimental by nature, often rash and ready to take bigger risks than adults in the sexual arena. Hence, they are vulnerable to adult predators.
Since the consequences of sexual adventurism and promiscuity are not immediately evident to teens, they need to be monitored and their friends and acquaintances carefully screened. Older siblings, too, should be advised and warned against overstepping the boundaries of sexual propriety with their younger sisters and brothers. They should clearly understand the types of interactions with their younger siblings their parents won't tolerate.
Unfortunately, our schools too are doing a lousy job with sex education. In this case, the victim's older sister was inducting her into group sex and videotaping her induction. Parents may be repulsed by explicit discussions about sex, but children need to know about the dangers of sex orgies. Asphyxiation during sex to heighten the sexual experience is a bedroom experiment that can go horribly wrong in the heat of the moment. Naive young women exploring sex with far older men may not have the sexual confidence or assertiveness to say no to risky sexual behaviors. They may approach risky behaviors with excitement rather than fear and if they are in the thrall of a far older partner, they may try to please and be agreeable when there is a need to question and refuse.
I do not know if it ever came out in court how Phylicia Barnes was asphyxiated, but her case should teach parents to put out specific warnings against the practice of choking to enhance the sexual experience. This deliberate evocation of hypoxia can be lethal and should be an emphatic no-no. Parents should illustrate graphically what can go terribly wrong with asphyxiation for pleasure and forbid the practice.
Usha Nellore, Bel Air