For once, you’d like to see the kids bored, distracted or even unruly only because the topic at hand did not concern them.
Instead, you could hear a pin drop.
Thursday, presentations at Iola Middle School on teen violence held the audience captive as they not only heard a personal, tragic story, but also learned how to identify “red flags” that signal a relationship is headed into unhealthy, if not dangerous, territory.
FOR CHRISTIE Brungardt, the lessons have come too late.
Her beautiful, successful, talented and intelligent daughter, Jana, was murdered in 2008 by an ex-boyfriend.
Brungardt, a professor at Fort Hays State University, addressed fifth- and sixth-graders and then seventh- and eighth-graders in two presentations about dating violence.
And lest you think these students are too young to hear about such things, sadly, statistics indicate about 25 percent of U.S. teens experience some form of violence in their everyday lives, be it in their homes, relationships, or among acquaintances.
Violent behaviors start early with bullying, Brungardt said.
“Bullies are mean because they can be,” Brungardt said. “And if left unchecked, those behaviors can grow into dating harassment and then sexual harassment. And then domestic violence.
“Hitting is not where domestic violence starts,” Brungardt said. “It starts with emotional abuse.” People degrading others.
Since her daughter’s death Brungardt and her husband Carl devote much of their spare time addressing domestic violence, particularly among the young.
Both teach in the Department of Leadership Studies at FHSU.
Talking about domestic violence is a perfect tie-in with her job, she said, “because as leaders we need to address what needs changing. And I’m working to see no other family has to experience what my family did.”
It’s only been recently that Brungardt can see not only the signs that led up to her daughter’s death, but also other trends that pose a grave danger to society.
In Jana’s case, she seemed anything but vulnerable.
A women’s studies graduate from the University of Kansas, Jana made women’s issues her calling, including spending years herself volunteering and helping victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in Lawrence.
After college, she worked as a lobbyist in Topeka educating legislators about domestic violence, equal rights, gender discrimination, and the like.
Unhappy with the success of her efforts, she decided to pursue law. She was in her second year of law school at KU when she was murdered.
“This showed me that if Jana could be a victim of domestic violence, then anyone could,” Brungardt said. “Jana was finely attuned to the dangers of an unhealthy relationship.”
Brungardt said when her daughter felt her current relationship with a man had taken an unhealthy turn, she decided to call it off. Three weeks before she died, Jana called her mother to tell her of the decision.
“She said he had become too controlling. Always wanting to know where she was, who she was with. He was jealous of her friendships. He stalked her both by phone and physically,” Brungardt said.
In hindsight, her mother can see the period immediately after breaking off the relationship was a very dangerous time.
“We should have done some safety planning,” Brungardt said. In essence, Jana should have told friends of her plans to break off the relationship and made arrangements to stay with them in the aftermath.
It’s hard to know the exact motive of the murderer, Brungardt said, because shortly after he was arrested he committed suicide.
“But what I know from studying this issue is that these kinds of people like to make others feel they can’t survive without them. That they’re either too stupid, fat or ugly to attract anyone else,” Brungardt said. “He must have not liked the idea that Jana could be just fine without him.
“You can’t really own people.”
BRUNGARDT worries of what she views as disturbing trends among youth.
Top of the list is the openness with which teens post online what should be private information.
A short video clip made a lasting impression: A teenage girl posts online a picture of herself posing in a swimsuit. The photo goes viral. Not only has the entire student body shared the picture, but also the town, including those who might make unseemly advances.
Attempts to remove the photo are futile.
“Once you post online, it’s there forever,” Brungardt said. “Please, don’t post anything online you’re not comfortable the world seeing, over and over again.”
Brungardt also encouraged the students to be nice.
“Don’t re-post unflattering pictures or videos of others,” she said.
Teens should be wary of relationships that make them feel uncomfortable, she said. They should not have to be held accountable of their every move or who they are with. They should have the freedom to be with their friends. And their friends should be held in respect. Trying to keep someone isolated from their friends is not healthy.
“I have students who are texted hundreds of times a day as to their whereabouts by their so-called boyfriends or girlfriends. I can’t believe that’s out of love,” Brungardt said. “That’s a classic sign of control.”
If students feel they are in unhealthy situations, Brungardt encouraged them to call Iola’s Hope Unlimited at 365-7566 or go to its office at 8 N. Washington. Hope Unlimited has counselors trained to guard against sexual and domestic violence.
For more information about Brungardt’s efforts to prevent domestic violence, visit www.janascampaign.org.
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