Warde-hosted interactive session focuses on underage drinking
By Mike Lauterborn
(Posted to Fairfield.Patch.com 5/12)
© 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Fairfield, CT – Bad decisions can have dire consequences especially when it comes to underage drinking.
That was the message drilled home Wednesday night in the Fairfield Warde High School auditorium by a team of moderators and the Interactive Educational Theatre group, which performed a series of skits illustrating all too common scenarios related to alcohol and minors. The theatre group, a non-profit touring company that specializes in social issue education, was comprised of teachers Erika Nelson-Hayden, Tony Republicano and Magda Skomal. The moderators were Fairfield criminal defense attorney Megan McLoughlin, Fairfield Police Chief Gary McNamara and Fairfield Police Lt. Tom Mrozek. About two dozen local parents of teens attended.
“Titled ‘Where’s the Party?’, the program is designed to raise awareness about underage drinking issues at hand in town and surrounding communities and comes on the heels of a 2010 online survey conducted by the Fairfield Cares Task Force,” said PTA volunteer and event co-chair Debbie Strachan. “Questions were tailored to parents and showed many surprises in terms of what parents thought their children were doing compared with what the kids said they were doing.”
For example, the Survey showed that 11% of Fairfield parents of juniors and seniors think their kids have ridden with a drunk driver, while 26% of Fairfield kids report they have ridden with a drunk driver.
In between each skit, the moderators provided crime statistics and insights, and took questions from the audience. Parents like Marie Lavigne found the program particularly relevant. “I have a son in 10th grade and a daughter in 8th grade and want to be aware of what kids are doing,” she said. “We think we’ve seen it all, but things have changed. Kids find ways to get alcohol.”
The theatre group led off the program by reading actual, startling headlines, that were pulled from local news services, about alcohol-related incidents involving minors. This was a segue to the first skit, which opened with three responsible kids getting together while parents were away, other kids finding out about the gathering and it getting out of control, with alcohol and drunk driving ultimate results.
McNamara said the situation happens frequently. “We often get calls to break up a party that has gotten out of control,” he said. “Kids party hop. We try to prevent that all over town.”
Attorney McLoughlin said the consequences are more serious when there is an adult present while alcohol is being consumed by a minor in a home. “Whether the adult is aware of the consumption or not, they can be charged with reckless endangerment or risk of injury to a minor, felonies that carry stiff penalties, even mandatory jail time.”
Lt. Mrozek said that when they find a party, they call in additional manpower and try to lock it down. Then they hold the kids, call parents and release the kids to their parents when they appear. “Communication is such these days that kids will quickly let other kids know that we’ve shown up and they won’t go.”
He added, “If a parent has sponsored the party, there are going to be arrests. We had a case of a schoolteacher that was present at a party we broke up, but hiding in a closet. We only found out afterwards but still arrested the teacher two weeks later.”
McNamara said the community can help the police department do its job by reporting anything they’ve heard or know right away. “If we get info early enough about an anticipated party, we’ll investigate it. We need you as much as you need us,” he said.
Another hazard related to underage drinking is acquaintance rape, the focus of another skit. In the scenario, a girl is out of it at a party and encouraged by the male host to lie down in his room. He lets on to the audience that he has put something in her drink.
“There are twisted people out there who will drug someone or feed them too much alcohol and take advantage of them,” said Skomal.
In a related scenario, a couple has a few beers, strolls to the beach and has sex. She apparently resisted and said ‘no’; he says he never heard her say no and thought it was consensual.
“A majority of the time, a girl doesn’t make a report because chances are they’re going to be victimized by a criminal defense lawyer like me,” said McLoughlin. “This he-said, she-said situation is also a grey area. Again, though, sexual assault is a symptom of underage drinking. People don’t think about the collateral damage.”
McLoughlin added, “Kids are listening to you, but hearing their friends, too. You have to keep telling them.”