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June 6, 2003

Deaf youths learn about being safe in the city

From: Allston Brighton TAB, MA - Jun 6, 2003


DAs spearhead new safety effort

No matter where they live, parents worry.

But Suffolk and Middlesex County district attorneys say the rapes of two deaf girls in Somerville last fall has put a spotlight on the unique safety issues faced by disabled teens in the Boston area.

Since the rapes, which took place in a Somerville park, Suffolk DA Dan Conley and Middlesex DA Martha Coakley have spearheaded an initiative to educate deaf and hard-of-hearing youths about the dangers of the city.

Lawyers, victim advocates, Coakley and Conley visited the Horrace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Brighton met Tuesday to teach kids from Boston, Newton, Framingham and the surrounding area about being safe on the T or while surfing the Internet, and how to avoid becoming a victim of violence.

"One of the things Dan [Conley] and I do is try to keep kids safe," said Coakley. "For some kids, there are other and different risks in the community."

Coakley referred to the two deaf Somerville girls who fled allegedly gang members into a park, where they were overtaken and raped last October.

In front of a crowd of 150 deaf and hard-of-hearing teens, parents and teachers from Horace Mann, the Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham and Newton North High School, the team of law professionals acted out skits and told students how important workshops like this one can be to disabled youths.

"It's never too early to talk about these matters," Conley told the teens through an American Sign Language interpreter. "The more we talk about them, the safer [kids] will be."

Officials from Conley's office led an audience participation skit to demonstrate how to avoid trouble on the T. They told kids not to take anything from strangers, to ignore anyone who might stare at them on the train and to keep their belongings close to them.

After the skit and introductions from the DAs, lawyers and Principal Patrice DiNatale, students broke up into smaller groups by age to learn about media literacy, healthy relationships, dating violence and Internet safety.

"The things you learn today you will use for the rest of your life," said Heidi Reed, head of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Reed signed to the crowd while an interpreter spoke her signs aloud.

Horace Mann Principal Patrice DiNatale told the students that staying safe often means thinking ahead and choosing to avoid potentially problematic situations.

"We know that the mission for schools is teaching and learning," said DiNatale. "All of the adults know that it's important for you to make good choices, but to make good choices you need information."

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