Visitor offers students unnerving, vital lesson


Roger Taylor gives students his resume and waits for questions.

The former military intelligence officer and Arab linguist works as the community educator at the Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County. He spends 25 hours each week - anywhere from 50 to 100 presentations a month with middle and high school students - talking about preventing violence.

He is met with students who have questions like: Why is a guy talking about rape, and does he know any victims of sexual violence?

One teen asked if he was a rapist doing community service.

"I tell them I am here to talk about prevention before something happens to any one of them," said Taylor, 35, a father of three young children. He also is a youth pastor, a private investigator and a professional rock climber who teaches the sport at Montgomery College in Rockville.

"It seemed that no matter what career path I was on, I always ran into someone coping with some form of sexual violence," he said. "I decided to talk about prevention."

He speaks frankly and encourages interaction.

He weaves grim statistics from the federal Department of Juvenile Justice into his lectures and stresses that help is available at a 24-hour, anonymous hot line staffed by Rape Crisis volunteers.

In a 90-day period last year, 35 youths called the hot line with serious issues, either about themselves or a friend, he said. Those numbers tell Taylor that his message is reaching students.

The crisis center, which sees about 300 new clients a year at its Westminster office, has asked the county commissioners for about $23,000 in additional funding to make Taylor a full-time employee.

"He is an outstanding speaker in the classroom," said Jo Ann Hare, executive director of the center. "The demand for this service is there. He is talking about what every community faces and giving kids information they should all have."

The request was not included in the commissioners' proposed budget for 2005.

Alarming statistics

During Taylor's presentations, students often express disbelief at the statistics on sexual violence.

More than 100,000 youths are sexually abused in the United States annually. One in four women will be sexually assaulted during her lifetime, a percentage that increases to one-in-three for college-age women.

Ninety percent of offenders know their victims and 61 percent of sexual-assault victims are younger than 18. Family members are responsible for 75 percent of child sex abuse. About 30 percent of sexual crimes are reported, according to Department of Juvenile Justice estimates.

"I was surprised at the stats, especially that one in seven males could be assaulted," said Justin Jones, 16, a sophomore at North Carroll High School in Hampstead.

Taylor details how others might "cross your personal boundaries" and stresses how rape is about power and control.

"It is all good knowledge for everybody to have," said Savannah Wentz, 14.

Uneasy audience

When Taylor spoke for 90 minutes to four different classes last week at North Carroll, some students initially squirmed in their seats. Some smirked. One uttered "Ew, I don't want to hear that" at the graphic information. At the back of the room, a few girls tried to avoid the lecture by chatting quietly with each other.

"I don't jump on kids for acting out or putting their heads down on their desks," he said. "I don't know what is going on in their lives or with a friend that might make them have that reaction."

Taylor called the fidgeting fairly typical. Within minutes, his calm presence, authoritative voice and the compelling message had drawn most students into the discussion.

"It is not only likely, but probable, someone in this class will have to deal with this at some point," he said. "You may not like having to listen to me, but don't disrespect the topic."

As if to underscore that thought, one tearful student spoke of her dismay at seeing her elementary school teacher on the television news. He had been charged with molesting several pupils.

"I always felt safe there, and he was a favorite teacher," she said.

Taylor encouraged the student to avail herself of the Rape Crisis Center's services.

"Keep asking for help," he said. "If the first person you go to doesn't help, go to another and another. Don't take 'no' for an answer. The point is get help."

He often uses real-life examples to spur conversation. He spoke of Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant, who has been accused of sexual assault, and discussed a sexual incident involving a Westminster High School athlete and the father of her friend.

It is not at all unusual for a few students to hover around Taylor after class. Sometimes, he said, they will ask a personal question or will seek information to relay to a friend.

"A lot of kids will have questions they were too embarrassed to ask in class," he said.

'Don't be afraid'

Ceaira Gray, 16, said, "I learned something today and that is: Don't be afraid to express your feelings."

North Carroll health teacher Jim Stull has frequently invited Taylor into his classes.

"He is somebody different, and they may listen to him more," Stull said.

Taylor flavors the talks with personal stories and a computer presentation. Stull noticed how quiet his students became as the discussion intensified.

"This is a message kids need to hear," Stull said. "The earlier they learn about sexual violence, the better they will be able to recognize it and maybe stop it."

The crisis center knows all too well the need that exists for Taylor's services, but absent the funding, they cannot hire him full-time, Hare said. She has had to turn down some requests from teachers.

"We could prevent so many more incidents with programs like this," she said. "The county would get its investment back fairly quickly."

Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County hot line: 410-857-7322.

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