My parents met when my mother was 14 and my father was nearly 18. My mother came from a broken home and didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like.
She found my father’s constant attention and strong commitment to her endearing. What started as overly enthusiastic interest soon turned into domineering and controlling behaviors. What followed were over 30 years of abuse and control.
Thankfully, my mother escaped a few years ago. When I was a teenager, my mom shared that she had seen the warning signs but was unable to understand what they meant. She shared these red flags with me in hopes that I would avoid her fate.
As an adolescent relationship abuse educator, I am blessed to go into high schools and speak to students about domestic violence and sexual assault. With the right knowledge and tools, teens can avoid living the type of life my mother felt trapped in. In addition to teaching about the warning signs of abusive behaviors, we also discuss how to be healthy and loving partners. Instilling healthy ideals of empathy and respect for others at a young age will prevent students from developing abusive tendencies.
According to the National Institute of Justice, one-third of high school students experiences violence at the hands of a romantic partner. I have personally seen this in students I work with. I cannot help but be astonished the issues my mother faced three decades ago are the same issues still being faced today.
Though we are doing the best we can, it seems like the work is never done. We have 15 staff members in Haven Women’s Center’s Youth and Preventative Services, but it is still not enough. In Stanislaus County, we have only been able to reach nine out of about 50 high schools. In addition to our high school-based programs we also have group programs for youth of all ages. All of these programs have wait lists. Someday we hope to have a presence in every high school while serving every young person who comes to our doors.
Sexual assault and domestic violence costs California approximately $140 billion annually, but the state has set aside only $5 million in a one-time grant to prevent domestic violence, with no funding specifically for sexual assault.
For these reasons, we join 116 California organizations in urging Governor Newsom to raise funding to $50 million a year, which would allow agencies like ours to expand. In Modesto, we see these costs reflected in medical care, trauma services, legal services and more.
Instilling healthy ideals of empathy and respect for others at a young age can prevent students from developing behaviors that can lead to violence in any relationship, including an intimate one. This is the kind of future we want to see for Stanislaus County youth.
Amanda Davis is an adolescent relationship abuse educator for Haven Women’s Center of Stanislaus. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.