BU News Service
With curly dark hair and rosy cheeks, 8th-grader Anthony Henderson paces the front of the room in the Somerville Public Safety Building, putting the final touches on a PeaceKeepers presentation with two others. He fidgets with the hood of his black and grey sweatshirt to make a final point.
“I’ve seen men hitting women on the street. Sometimes I’ll just be walking, and I hear them yelling and then that would just happen. I normally would just have a hoodie on, so I just put my hood on and keep walking,” Henderson said.
This is the goal of PeaceKeepers, bringing awareness about domestic violence, teen dating abuse and sexual assault to the community. The program, which uses young teens like Henderson to drill home these points, debuted in October at the annual domestic violence vigil in Somerville.
The group, organized by Sonja Darai, director of Somerville Commissions, consists of three boys, including Henderson, Didier Kasole, a 9th-grader whose brainiac attitude is emphasized by thick black-rimmed glasses, and Calvin Hill, an 11th-grader with a mentor-like stature.
The three boys attend different schools — West Somerville Neighborhood School, Somerville High School and Medford High School — but Darai said they all work well together.
“It’s really nice because Calvin is 11th grade and Anthony is 8th grade,” Darai said. “I think it’s really nice the way kids work things out for their age groups. They know who’s the oldest, but they also don’t allow you to be the boss.”
All three boys attended a training provided by Darai this summer. The five-week course, taught to a total of nine teens at Clarendon Hill Towers, focused on sexual harassment, dating abuse and Title IX rights. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education, as well as addressing sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination and sexual violence.
“Sonja taught us what to do when [dating violence] is happening — say one of our friends is hitting his girlfriend, how we would talk about that, how it’s not cool or if it keeps escalating, we have to bring a parent into it,” Henderson said.
The teens have utilized their different strengths to decide what statistics on teen dating abuse were most important to their project and to the community. They found, according to a 2011 survey by the American Association of University Women, that in a given school year, “58 percent of 7th-12th graders experience sexual harassment.”
Futures Without Violence, a non-profit organization focused on ending domestic violence and abuse, reported that “nearly one in four 7th grade girls and more than one in five boys reported perpetrating (committing) physical violence in a dating relationship.”
The PeaceKeepers trio said it was facts like these that changed the way they thought about domestic and dating violence.
“I always grew up thinking that it was girls always being abused and not boys,” Henderson said. “But then we actually found out that wasn’t true.”
Kasole agreed. “As we found out that it was boys, we were kind of like shocked,” he said.
While both genders are at risk of dating violence, the New York Alliance Against Sexual Assault’s fact sheet on teen dating violence says that “boys are more likely to be pinched, slapped, scratched or kicked by dating partners” while “girls are much more at risk for severe violence, sexual violence, and injuries requiring medical attention.”
Al Jazeera reported that “18 percent of teens reported being sexually abused in their relationships.” In contrast the report also states, “12 percent of teens admit that they’ve sexually abused someone they’re dating.”
February is Teen Dating Awareness Month and many organizations, such as loveisrespect.org, are working to emphasis the importance of these statistics throughout the month. Loveisrespect.org reports that “nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year.”
PeaceKeepers, with help from Darai, used these statistics and many others to put together fact sheets and handouts to accompany their presentations.
The group has also worked with Somerville Community Access Television to produce videos promoting their cause and have created accounts on numerous social media platforms, including Facebook, to help spread their work and what they’ve learned.
The PeaceKeepers trio said that this project has changed the way they view and approach the dating scene and urge kids their age to know the signs and know how to address the situation if it ever happens.
“The work that we’ve done has opened our eyes to a lot of the facts and what’s actually happening,” Hill said.