BARCC’s work with youth began with the founding. From the beginning, teenagers called the hotline and volunteers held workshops and speaking engagements at schools. But the formalization of the youth initiative didn’t come until later.
One of the first regularly occurring youth programs was a class at a school in Chelsea around 2008. Steph Trilling, BARCC’s youth outreach coordinator at the time, said an event triggered a student survivor, and the staff didn’t feel equipped to respond properly. They called BARCC.
The class covered gender norms, sexual health, safer sex, bystander intervention, racism, and gender identity, all in an effort to look at the root causes of sexual violence. Steph said the focus on youth stemmed from knowing that youth have high rates of victimization and low rates of reporting. To end sexual violence, youth had to be part of the equation.
“We tried to be intentional, however we engaged youth, that it was genuine and that they felt some control and power over the situation,” said Steph. “It wasn’t, ‘we are adults, we know best.’ We really tried to put them in the driver’s seat.”
The class was so popular that it split into two: an intro class and an advanced class. Leondra Hawkesworth was a junior at the school during that time, and the name of the class caught her eye.
“It exceeded all my expectations,” Leondra said. “I’ve never taken a class like that again.”
She said most sexual violence prevention she experienced focused on things like how to dress and how not to act promiscuous, but the class BARCC taught showed her that violence comes from the mindset of another person.
“If every high school had it, a lot of things would have been different,” Leondra said of the class. “It taught a lot how to deal with it and how to prevent it.”
Through the class, Leondra testified in front of hundreds of people at the Massachusetts State House in favor of a bill that would protect people who were being stalked.
“Young people should be leading this, and we should be creating these opportunities to lead,” said Steph.
BARCC’s Youth Leadership Corps (YLC) had its first session during the 2014–15 academic year. Steph supervised the program, which was a collaboration between Ashley Slay, who is now BARCC’s youth clinical outreach coordinator, and Patrick Donovan, who is now the interim director of Community Awareness and Prevention Services (CAPS).
“It was one aspect of a greater push to increase access [to BARCC] for youth,” said Patrick of the creation of the YLC. “It was very intentional. We really wanted to build a space where we could hear from young people.”
Ashley and Patrick created the curriculum from scratch, with the same intention that Steph took to the class: to put youth in the driver’s seat. YLC members have space to lead the conversation and talk about the things that matter to them, like gender bias in dress code enforcement, street harassment, and more. They learn how to effect change as leaders in their circles.
Part of the vibrant culture of youth leadership programs in Greater Boston, the YLC is still going strong today and working on a variety of projects. “They’re really spreading this message and mobilizing communities,” said Ashley.
Want to join the YLC or know a youth who would love it? Check it out!