Domestic violence doesn't always happen at home. Sometimes it starts at school, where teen relationships grow and can go wrong.
That makes schools an excellent staging area for the fight against dating violence in the short term and domestic violence in the long term.
So it's good to see Start Strong Wichita, a four-year project of Catholic Charities of Wichita, working with USD 259, the Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center and Wichita State University to arm local teens with information about the risks and consequences of dating violence and their power and responsibility to prevent it.
The effort, part of an 11-city national campaign fueled by $18 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, kicked off locally in October and will continue with an art exhibit of works by Wichita youths from 6 to 10 p.m. tonight at Hewitt's Antiques, 228 N. Market, as part of the popular Final Friday art crawl. More student-driven activities are planned throughout February, which is Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month, including theatrical events dealing with the dangers of teen dating violence, "sexting," cyberstalking and sexual assault.
The point isn't just to educate the potential perpetrators and targets of dating violence but also to empower bystanders to help stop and prevent it. The Start Strong Wichita organizers also aim to extend the message to school curriculum.
Adults in school and parents at home also need to be part of the solution, by modeling healthy relationships.
"We can't ask teens to do something they don't see," Nancy Carroll, violence prevention coordinator with Catholic Charities Harbor House, told The Eagle editorial board.
The program's stakes are high and rising: Wichita has accounted for almost 22 percent of reported sexual assaults in the state; nearly 50 percent of those have involved victims younger than 19. And Kansas' death toll from domestic violence saw an awful spike last year: At least 35 adults and 13 children lost their lives, up from 33 total domestic-violence-related murders in 2008 and 23 in 2007.
If Start Strong Wichita succeeds in building healthy teen relationships at school, its impact on lives and families will linger long after graduation day and build a healthier community.