Program teaches kids signs of dangerous relationships

One out of every 10 teen relationships is violent; 50 percent of sexual assaults take place during a date.

These are two of the facts teenagers hear during the Rape Crisis Center’s new program, Your Space.

Created in collaboration with Safe House, the new program targets kids from sixth to 12th grade in schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, faith-based organizations and anywhere youth can be found, said Elena Espinoza, director of education and outreach for the Rape Crisis Center.

The program, which started in September, consists of a four-day course dealing with dating, date rape, date rape drugs, rape myths and prevention tips. It was created after staff realized that their one-time presentations weren’t enough for the audience.

“The kids would ask us back,” Espinoza said.

The topic is relevant in a city where children are surrounded by images of sexual violence, Espinoza said. The curriculum does not cover sex or reproduction, instead focusing on sexual assault, which is about control and domination, she noted.

Kids ask a lot of questions during the 50-minute sessions, Espinoza said, because many don’t know what qualifies as sexual assault.

“We get a lot of questions like, ‘Was I or was I not raped or violated?’ We also get a lot of the third person questions, such as, ‘What can I do to help a friend?’ ” Espinoza said. “A lot of times their first exposure to dating is through their peers and the media. We’re doing the prevention work before they become a victim.”

The curriculum covers red flags and how kids should respond to them. Some warning signs that a relationship could turn violent or that it’s unhealthy are: He talks over you; he starts punching, biting or doing things that may seem playful but aren’t; he doesn’t respect your needs or wishes; or he tries to isolate you from others.

“If this one person just wants you for themselves then there’s a problem,” Espinoza said.

Teens need to learn the facts about sexual assault because they are entering into relationships at an earlier age and are bombarded by media images of sexual violence, she said.

One study found that more than 50 percent of high school boys and 42 percent of high school girls believe there are times it’s acceptable to hold a girl down, Espinoza said. Because that research was conducted several years ago, those numbers probably have increased, she added.

Though the Your Space program is funded through December with a $56,000 state grant, Espinoza hopes to keep it going. Donations are always needed, she said.

For more information, call the Rape Crisis Center at 385-2153.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-4564.

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