There is a difference between a phone call checking in on you and dozens of calls and text messages asking the details of your whereabouts.
There is a difference between asking how your day was and snooping through your phone to see who you have talked to.
There is a difference between caring for someone and controlling them – but that isn’t always easy to see, especially for young people.
A program through the Marjaree Mason Center is helping students in the Fresno Unified School District identify signs of dating abuse and understand the seriousness of domestic violence.
“Kids can be getting like 50 texts from their boyfriend or girlfriend a day asking where they are, what they’re doing. They’re starting to flex that muscle of power and control over them,” said Genelle Taylor Kumpe, executive director of the center. “That’s what domestic violence is. It doesn’t have to be an act of physical abuse.”
A three-year, $125,000 grant from the state’s Office of Emergency Services will allow the center to expand its Know More program, which teaches teenagers what caring relationships look like and how to help themselves and others if they spot unhealthy behaviors.
The grant will expand a weekly club already available to Fresno Unified high schools to the district’s 17 middle schools starting next school year.
One in three teenagers have been a victim of dating violence, and one in five high school students report being physically or sexually abused by a partner. But those statistics usually come as a shock to adults, Taylor Kumpe said. Children who grow up in an abusive household are also much more likely to become abusers themselves.
“A lot of people don’t realize – parents don’t realize – how prominent relationship abuse actually is in young adults or children,” she said. “Especially when kids are growing up in an abusive household, they may not know any better. They might just think it’s normal behavior.
“Educating youth is really our answer to breaking the cycle of abuse. We have these children who are essentially being incubated to be the next abuser.”
Leslie Loewen, Fresno Unified’s campus culture manager, sees the program as a supplement to sex education, which is optional to students who are interested or need the resources.
“We know students come in every day to the classroom, and there’s a lot of stuff that they’ve got going on. In high school, this is a big one,” she said.
“Our hope is that in Fresno Unified, they will have a safe place and a safe person to connect to and know where to go if they have questions.”