Police spoke Thursday to students at Rhodes Junior High School in west Mesa about grown-up topics: Stalking, relationship violence and other forms of domestic abuse.
The specialists from the Mesa Center Against Family Violence addressed boys and girls in a pilot program at the campus, but they directed their sternest warnings at the boys.
“You have to understand: This is about you, guys,” domestic violence specialist Andrea Sierra told the class. “Sorry.”
Giovanny Paredes, 15, said he didn’t mind the emphasis on his gender during the four, hourlong sessions he attended over the past two weeks. Research shows that males commit about 95 percent of the domestic violence reported to police, and Paredes said the focus on boys was justified.
“It teaches us about how bad the relationships can get,” he said.
Mesa detective Coy Johnston helped develop the curriculum that he hopes will soon be used at schools across the state. He said teens today are not too young for serious talks about sexual violence and other relationship issues.
“Possessiveness, jealousy, bullying — all those tendencies and red flags that show that they could be abusive — start at this young age,” he said. “If we’re ever going to prevent domestic violence, we have to hit the source, which is boys.”
But police might have a hard time reaching those boys. Administrators at nearly all campuses approached by the Center Against Family Violence said their teachers were too busy with core academics — reading, writing and math — to squeeze in extra classes on domestic violence.
“We’re just trying to get our foot in the door,” Johnston said.
Rhodes math teacher Heather Larsen, who sent her students through the program, said many of the boys in her classes protested at first that police were “male bashing” but quickly softened their stance as they listened to what police had to say.
“Some of my hard-core guys have said, ‘I would never touch a girl,’ ” she said. “I’ve been impressed.”
So has Esmarelda Sturgeon, 15, who said she sometimes sees emotional abuse and jealousy among boys and girls at Rhodes.
“The program was a really big eye-opener,” she said. “I don’t date yet, but I will be careful about who I hang out with.”