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Love is respect
Pitman club putting the HARRT into teen relationships
Pitman HARRT Club 1
The Pitman High HAART Club members pictured are: Front Row: Connor Barnum, Carmen Barrajas and Bri Currie-Bennett; Back Row: Club President Christian Perez, Jeffery Kern, Christian Munoz, Club VP Caden Johns, Everett Patridge, Ethan Sousa and Samuel Yarborough (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Nationwide, one out of three teenagers experiences physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by someone with whom they’re in a relationship, according to data provided by

The Healthy and Responsible Relationship Troop (HARRT) at Pitman High School wants to help change that paradigm.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Pitman’s HARRT club has a series of events scheduled next week that members hope will shine a light on the problems that face their peers.

“February is kind of our big month,” said Pitman High teacher Joy Esquibel, one of the club’s advisors. “Our HARRT club will be focusing on prevention and trying to spread awareness.”

Young girls are particularly vulnerable and are more likely to suffer long-term behavioral and health consequences, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, and drug use. And nearly half — 43 percent — of U.S. college women report experiencing violent or abusive dating behaviors, according to

Pitman HARRT Club 2
Pitman HARRT Club members will conduct a Bucket Brigade on Monday, filling buckets with candy and positive relationship messages to pass out to classmates at lunchtime (JOE CORTEZ/The Journal).

Sofia Lear, a junior who is the daughter of Pitman High teacher Eva Lear, another of the club’s advisors, can speak from experience.

“I was in an unhealthy relationship,” said Lear, who’s been a club member since she was a freshman. “I feel I should’ve taken the lessons I learned more seriously. The signs were clearly displayed.

“Possessiveness and jealously and being insecure and taking it out on your partner is a common theme.”

But it’s not just girls. Club vice president Caden Johns said he was in an unhealthy relationship for 10 months during his freshman year.

“I was new to relationships,” said Johns, a junior. “By the end, I realized it was a really controlling relationship. Finally, I got to the point where I sought help through my friends. I realized it was unhealthy and cut it off immediately. Now, I’m in a relationship that’s 10 times better. I can hang out with my friends and still live my own life.”

HARRT receives grant support from HAVEN (Healthy Alternatives to Violent ENvironments) of Modesto.

“We work closely with Brandy (Spencer-Perry) of HAVEN,” said Eva Lear. “She’s really invested in this and wants to see our program grow and help with whatever type of activities we come up with. We really enjoy working with HAVEN.

“Recently, there’s been a big focus on the sex-trafficking component, since we’re so close to the freeway and it’s easy to infiltrate communities like ours.”

Pitman HARRT Club 3
Pitman HARRT Club advisors Joy Esquivel and Eva Lear help students with the Red Sand Project last month for Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Sand dyed red was poured into sidewalk cracks around campus, representing those having fallen through cracks of the human-trafficking crisis (Photo contributed).

Last month, for Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the HARRT club took part in the Red Sand Project, where sand dyed red was poured into sidewalk cracks around campus, representing those having fallen through cracks of the human-trafficking crisis.

“A couple of weeks ago, we did the Red Sand event,” said Bri Currie-Bennett, a freshman. “A lot of people were joining in and participating. It was really great to see.”

One component of teen dating that doesn’t get the same attention as mental and physical abuse is digital abuse, with teens being stalked or harassed via their smartphones.

And kids today can communicate with partners easier than those of previous generations. Gone are the days when a nervous teen had to muster the courage to make a date over the telephone, hoping against hope that mom or dad or an older sibling didn’t answer the call.

Today, kids can carry on a relationship — arranging dates, sharing photos — without the parents even knowing.

“I don’t think having a secret relationship is a good idea, by any means,” said Currie-Bennett. “I know for me, if I were to have a boyfriend, I’d definitely tell my mom, in case anything happened. She’s trustworthy.”

On Monday the HARRT club will conduct its Bucket Brigade, where club members fill buckets full of candy adorned with positive relationship messages — “a healthy relationship will inspire you to be more of who you want to be” — and pass out the treats to classmates at lunchtime.

On Tuesday, the club will be promoting its video contest, urging students to create a short video about healthy relationships. The winning entry will receive a “date night” gift basket, filled with items such as movie passes and gift cards for dinner and treats.

The festivities will conclude on Wednesday with a photo booth. Troop members hope other students will take photos in the booth holding positive relationship messages, such as “love equals respect.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Sofia Lear. “I hope a lot of people on campus will come check it out.”