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Chautauqua County will play a role in a presentation on teen-age pregnancy and sexuality issues to Congress in January.

Molly Rodgers, director of youth services at Chautauqua Opportunities and a member of the Fredonia School Board, was part of a national group of more than 30 people who traveled to France, Germany and the Netherlands earlier this month to study the issues.

The conference was organized by Advocates for Youth in Washington, D.C., and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, in cooperation with the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

The goal was to investigate how other countries achieve societal acceptance for their policies on teen-age sexuality and how these policies can be adapted for the U.S.

Chautauqua County's role in the conference can be attributed to its dubious distinction as the site of an AIDS health scare that captured national attention after Nushawn Williams was accused of knowingly infecting more than a dozen young Jamestown area women with the AIDS virus.

Some of the issues the group will raise include the United States' high birth and abortion rates in comparison with European countries.

"The lessons learned will generate considerable controversy as well as pressure for policy and program changes in the United States," said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth.

Data compiled by Advocates for Youth indicates the United States has a rate of 54.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, compared with 13 in Germany, nine in France and seven in the Netherlands.

In Chautauqua County in 1996, 86 births were documented for 15- to 17-year-olds, along with 45 abortions. There were 20 pregnancies reported in Dunkirk during the same year. Additional statistical information was not available.

"Of the 86 pregnancies, 79 of the births were out of wedlock," Ms. Rodgers said.

She said that the high birth rate and apparent practice of having unprotected sex in the county can generally be attributed to "poverty and a feeling of hopelessness."

"Some of them feel there is nothing for them here or they are running from a bad family situation," she said. "I think we saw that with the Nushawn Williams case. These girls were very emotionally needy and vulnerable."

The group spoke with many European youths on the 16-day trip and noticed that they seemed to have greater self-esteem and a focus on educational and professional goals.

According to Ms. Rodgers, they also realize that an unwanted pregnancy could ruin those dreams. She said an emphasis also is placed on the value of an emotionally stable, caring relationship of mutual respect, rather than a purely physical one.

Americans could take a cue from the way sex education is presented to European teens.

"It's very open and frank and nonjudgmental, but not graphic," she said.

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