On a summer afternoon this past July, we sat down with two Marin Against Youth Abuse (MAYA) volunteer committee members to chat about the incredible work they have been doing in their high schools to prevent dating abuse.

Both Isa and Holly were excited to share their thoughts about participating in MAYA. Each has a personal story about how they came to volunteer. But more than anything, both chimed in about what really inspired them to get deeply involved. MAYA offered them a place to learn why young women are harassed for their sexuality, and why being a woman is such a different Marin Against Youth Abuseexperience for them than what their male peers experience coming of age. MAYA showed them that the way they were being treated was not normal. What they experienced – cat calling and being followed by cars, for example – are all forms of abuse and intimidation.

And, MAYA gave them a mission – a way they could make an impact and help their peers deal with these challenging issues. It taught them how to use language to strengthen equality and how to communicate warning signs for unhealthy relationships. As soon as they were professionally trained as peer advocates through C4DP’s 40 Hour Domestic Violence Advocate Training, others in their schools started to reach out to them for help. As they quickly learned, the issue was much bigger than they thought, or anyone thinks. And, therein lies the problem that the MAYA youth face.

Dating abuse awareness is not prioritized in schools or recognized as an issue, so they often get, “Why do you care?” – or push back that “girls abuse boys, too” – both from fellow students as well as adults. Isa’s and Holly’s experience has led them to believe that because dating abuse is not visible to the administration and staff, finding adult allies in the system is difficult.

“We need support: that is the challenge. We want more adults and boys to advocate for the issues that harm all genders,” emphasizes Holly.

Isa chimes in that starting in 8th grade or earlier, there should be mandatory curriculum not just about sex-ed and consent, but about gender equality; the emotional side of relationships; how important it is to have resources; and education on campuses that students can access.

They both emphasized a great place to start would be with strong leadership among coaches who have conversations about more than drinking and drugs to include respect, intervention, and healthy role modeling behavior. More about this point is in the PeaceWatch article, “Mobilizing Young Men and Boys as Allies for Change.”

When asked what their favorite part has been about being a part of MAYA, both had a similar answer – they are not only making a direct impact on their peers, but they both have also had an opportunity to explore their own interests that likely will influence their future career choices.

“I don’t ever want to leave this work – it has made me who I am today,” affirms Isa. We thank Isa and Holly, and all the students who have participated in MAYA, for their leadership in our Marin schools.

If you know a young person who might be interested in joining, please contact Laurel Freeman, Prevention Specialist, at 415.526.2557 direct line/ text hotline. MAYA College Ad for Marin IJ