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Miss America wins battle, free to promote abstinence


WASHINGTON (BP)–Miss America is free to talk about sexual abstinence after all.

Erika Harold, crowned in September as Miss America 2003, told reporters Oct. 9 she had been informed that morning by Miss America chief executive George Bauer there would be no restrictions on her discussion of chastity as part of her youth violence prevention platform.

The announcement by Harold at a suburban Chicago news conference came on the same day efforts by pageant officials to stifle her abstinence message were reported in The Washington Times. The newspaper reported Harold and an acquaintance had acknowledged at a Washington appearance Oct. 8 that Bauer and others had ordered her not to talk publicly about sexual abstinence.

“I don’t think the pageant organizers really understood how much I am identified with the abstinence message,” Harold said at the Oct. 9 news conference, according to The Illinois Leader, a conservative online news site. “If I don’t speak about it now as Miss America, I will be disappointing the thousands of young people throughout Illinois who need assurance that waiting until marriage for sex is the right thing to do.”

The Miss America organization will issue a statement soon confirming her freedom to talk about abstinence publicly, Harold said, according to The Illinois Leader. Bauer has not responded to numerous requests to the organization for an interview, The Times reported.

Pageant officials pressured Harold to silence her advocacy of sexual abstinence though she had promoted chastity for the last four years and had made it her platform in the Miss Illinois contest. She has delivered a sexual abstinence message to more than 14,000 students in Illinois, according to Project Reality, an abstinence-centered education program in Illinois. Her platform for the Miss Illinois pageant was Teenage Sexual Abstinence: “Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself.”


In response to pageant officials’ orders, Harold told reporters in Washington Oct. 8 she would “not be bullied.”

“I’ve talked to thousands of young people on the issue of abstinence,” Harold said Oct. 9, The Illinois Leader reported. “It is very important that I continue to speak on this issue — the kids I spoke to need to know that I’m not abandoning this issue simply because I am now Miss America.”

Harold, 22, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Illinois, has been accepted to Harvard Law School.

After Harold won the Miss Illinois title in June, state pageant officials chose youth violence prevention as her Miss America contest platform because they considered it more “pertinent,” her father told an Illinois newspaper, according to The Times. According to the Miss America website, Harold’s platform is Empowering Youth Against Violence: “Respect Yourself; Protect Yourself.”

Abstinence education is an important part of preventing teenage violence, because violence is directly related to sexual promiscuity, Harold told reporters in Washington.

“I think that if a young person is engaged in a promiscuous lifestyle, it makes them vulnerable to other risk factors, so I definitely see a tie-in there,” Harold said, The Times reported.

“Many victims of sexual harassment believe what is said about them, and they become very promiscuous. When they’re called a whore, when they’re called a slut, they think, ‘That’s what I want to be,’ and so they engage in a pattern of self-destruction that can be very detrimental to their lives,” she said.

“And when I went through that experience, I took the opposite approach and said, ‘I’m going to believe in who I am. I’m not going to be defined by what other people think about me.’ And so I felt very, very fortunate that I had parents, I had a faith community who reinforced this decision, and I was able to speak about this. I didn’t take the route of becoming promiscuous; I took the route of reaffirming what I believed was right and stood for it. And I was very fortunate to be able to speak to thousands of young people about this.”

The Illinois Leader first reported pageant officials’ pressure on Harold to eliminate her sexual abstinence message Oct. 3.

Genevieve Wood, vice president of communications with the Washington-based Family Research Council, called pageant officials’ reluctance to allow Harold to speak freely a prime example of political correctness.

“With 3 million new cases of teens contracting an STD each year, more and more teachers, doctors and policy makers are seeing the medical necessity of abstinence education,” Wood said in an FRC news release. “If Miss Harold’s platform was about the hazards of smoking, most likely there wouldn’t be any protest. Sexually transmitted diseases have reached epidemic levels.”

Abstinence, Wood said, is “the one message that will help save people’s lives and protect their emotional and physical health.”

The FRC news release cited Kaiser Family Foundation statistics that up to 15 percent of sexually active teenage women are infected with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), an incurable virus that is present in virtually all cervical cancers. Each year 5,000 women die from cervical cancer, which is the second cause of cancer death among women. Condoms do not stop the transmission of HPV.

The Sept. 29 issue of Time magazine, meanwhile, reported that, “A small but vocal cohort of doctors has gone to the abstention side.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose programs had encouraged condom use, “has been quietly recasting its position on abstinence,” the article stated. Patricia Sulak, an ob-gyn and professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Medicine, told Time, “After reviewing the data [on condoms], I’ve had to do a 180 on kids and sex.”