Individuals who are victims of domestic violence, or who have spent time in the foster care system, are at least 42% times more likely to engage in an abusive relationship in their adult life, according to Christina Powell, Executive Director of the Help Center Inc. and Sexual Assault Counseling Center.
This means that girls and boys who have experienced violence and subsequently ended up in the Juvenile Court system are far more likely to experience repeated victimization than children who grew up in stable homes.
While the above statistics are intimidating and abuse cycles often difficult to break, a group of Grinnell students are taking time to act as instructors and mentors to at-risk teens, with the hope that their advice and instruction will equip students at the Toledo Iowa Juvenile Home with the tools they need to identify abusive relationships and get out of them.
The Toledo Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School is a facility which acts as a residential care facility for youth, who, according to the organizations website, “have been determined by the juvenile justice system to require specialized structured program care, evaluation, and/or treatment due to numerous out-of-home placements, disruptive behavior, and extensive involvement in the system.”
Founded in the summer of 2009, the Iowa Center Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) began a program to train college students to teach a series of classes that focus on developing healthy relationships. In the spring of 2010 Grinnell college students began facilitating classes of their own.
The program is entitled Healthy Relationship Classes. The Grinnell chapter officially falls under the greater umbrella organization, DVA/SAC Campus Advocates. Grinnell College students discuss topics such as healthy communication, defining abusive vs. healthy relationships and creating a concrete definition for consent. Additionally the course informs students of various ways one can break off unhealthy relationships.
Grinnell students who are interested in participating in the group apply at the beginning of the semester. After the official application process is completed, applicants go through a one-day training to develop the basic skills necessary to lead classes, such as how to direct a class and facilitate discussion of sensitive topics.
According to Allison Brinkhorst ’11, a volunteer in the program, the spring semester of 2010 saw 10 Grinnell students facilitate 5 classes. This semester, the group trained 4 Grinnell students and 2 community members to facilitate and teach 3 different classes. The classes meet once a week for a total of six weeks.
“Many of our students have already been exposed to intimate partner violence, so our work to break those cycles and help the students in at-risk situations [avoid abusive relationships] in the future has been very fulfilling for me,” Brinkhorst said.
Another participant in the program, Jenny Peek ’13 explained that the experience of teaching at-risk youth not only helped her hone in on her teaching skills, but it also brought a lot of things into perspective for her.
“Grinnellians, including me, get really stressed out about little things like grades and getting our homework done. These girls have experienced things that I personally can’t even imagine going through, and they still make the best of it. After these classes, you really start to appreciate life in a different way,” she said.
Every semester, the program looks for more Grinnell students to teach classes. As the program grows, the number of classes available at Iowa Juvenile Home, as well as the positive effects that the classes have on the lives of the students, increase.
“We would love to see more students get involved because it is so mutually beneficial for both the students in the Iowa Juvenile Home/Girls State Training School and the Grinnellians teaching it. You’re only committing for 6 weeks and the time commitment is about two and a half hours per session, including travel time. If we had more college students doing it we would teach more classes,” Peek said.
Anyone interested in the program should contact Campus Advocates at firstname.lastname@example.org.