FARMINGTON — Teenagers today face a more sexualized society than their elders. But that doesn't mean the older generation is free from the dangers of sexual abuse.

A class that will be taking place at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center focuses on the changes in views surrounding sexuality and helps raise awareness about sexual abuse.

The class will be taught by Heather DePeal, the education and outreach coordinator at Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico.

"Obviously things have drastically changed," DePeal said.

DePeal, who was born in 1976, remembers using casette tape Walkmans to listen to music. For many of the older generation, bikinis weren't something worn.

But technology isn't the only thing that has changed. DePeal said the culture has become more sexualized.

Many children grew up with television's Hannah Montana, played by Miley Cyrus, as a role model.

The older generation didn't have a Miley Cyrus and weren't exposed to a 24-hour media buzz like the younger generation.

"Everywhere I turn I see the Mileys, the Kardashians and the Kanyes," DePeal said.

The first talk will address myths and misconceptions. The second talk will be about the red flags.

"I think that's beneficial for everybody," DePeal said.

The class not only shows the changes in sexualization, it also helps raise awareness about sexual abuse among older people and to dispel myths and misconceptions.

"It doesn't just happen to young girls who are going out to the clubs," DePeal said.

DePeal said older people can be sexually abused as well.

"It doesn't discriminate across the age continuum," DePeal said.

She said in the four years she has worked with Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, she hasn't seen a common theme in the cases. She said predators have ways to gain access and often know the victim.

"The stranger-danger stuff kills me," DePeal said.

For senior citizens, their caretakers can sometimes also be their abusers, DePeal said. She said many predators are manipulative, smart and opportunistic.

DePeal encourages everyone to look at the sex offender registries. She said she has found people she knew, or went to high school with on the registries.

One of DePeal's motives in becoming an outreach coordinator was her own experience when a relationship she had turned violent. Her boyfriend tried to strangle her and she ended up in the hospital. Doctors told her she was lucky to be alive.

Now DePeal warns people about domestic violence as well as sexual violence and she shows the pictures of the marks on her neck where his hands were and the bruises on her back. She said abuse is always intentional and no one wants to be abused.

"It's never the victim's fault," she said.

DePeal said if anyone has been sexually abused, they should contact Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, which has a 24-hour hotline.

"Our cases don't just happen nine to five," DePeal said.

She said the hotline puts people in contact with an on-call nurse as well as an advocate for immediate help. A therapist at Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico is available to help survivors "put the pieces back together," she said.

"Sexual assault is more than just an attack on the body," DePeal said.

Sexual assaults and rapes are the least reported crime, she said.

One in four New Mexico women will be a victim of sexual abuse, whether it is inappropriate touching, rape or other types of abuse such as incest.

One of the myths DePeal hopes to dispel is that "it will never happen to me."

Another myth is that men can't be raped.

One in six New Mexico boys will be victims of sex abuse and one in 20 New Mexico men, she said.

This also goes along with gender stereotyping. Men are seen as big, strong, tough and able to fight off an attacker while women are seen as meek, weak and passive.

When men have been raped, they often feel as if their masculinity has been questioned and some even wonder if the rape means they are gay, DePeal said.

For DePeal, educating others about sexual abuse and raising awareness moves the community one step closer to preventing it.

"Silence hides violence," DePeal said.


Training March 8, 9, 15 and 19 is available for people interested in becoming advocates for survivors of sexual abuse. For more information, call Leah Elkins at Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico at 505-325-2805.


What: Old School versus New School

When: 10 to 11 a.m. Nov. 13 and Dec. 11

Where: Bonnie Dallas Senior Activity Center behind the Annex, 208 Wall St.

More info: 505-566-2287

Hannah Grover covers news, arts and religion for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.