NORTH BRUNSWICK – Cynthia Baumgartner wanted to go have pizza with Hana Kang and her boyfriend.
Excited, she asked her boyfriend, Christopher Fernandez, if they could go.
Shutting her down, he said he wanted her to stay in her room and make him a meal. Using a threatening tone of voice, he told her to stop asking, stating, “Remember what happened last time.”
She backed down in a quiet voice, repeating, “OK, OK, OK.”
This role-playing scenario of unhealthy teenage relationships was for the benefit of the cadets of the North Brunswick Junior Police Academy.
Baumgartner is the supervisor of the North Brunswick Police Department Records Bureau, as well as part of the North Brunswick Domestic Violence Response Team (DVRT). She requested the assistance of Fernandez and Kang, officers in the department, for the scenario to demonstrate the escalation of domestic violence.
“There are more officers killed on domestic violence calls than any other call, so it’s something they take very personally and very carefully,” Baumgartner said.
Baumgartner said abuse comes in the forms of verbal, emotional, physical, economic, sexual and psychological.
“Those kinds of behaviors are meant to have control over you … and make you do what the abuser wants,” she said. “Bullying turns into domestic violence – power and control. I will have power and control over you.”
Baumgartner said one in four women will be abused in their lifetime, and one in five are subjected to teen violence. She said domestic violence laws pertain to adults over 18 who are married, dating, roommates, or have other familial relationships. She said 95 percent of abusers are men.
She said there are subtle forms of domestic violence, such as a boyfriend demanding his girlfriend meet him at a locker at a certain time, or she is not allowed to talk to other males, or she has to change what she is wearing. Or, even if one person does not physically touch the other, taking an action such as punching a wall could be a warning sign.
“It’s about control: you will do what I say,” she said.
Speaking directly to the middle school students in the room at North Brunswick Township High School, Baumgartner warned girls about taking inappropriate selfies and forwarding them.
“Don’t share pictures like that. Don’t take pictures you don’t want your parents to see,” she said.
She said girls are convinced their boyfriends would never hurt them, but then the boy could take a turn and say, “I’ll ruin you.” It has even led to teen suicide.
“Girls, don’t do it. If he cares about you, he’s not going to put you in a situation that’s going to hurt you,” she said.
She addressed cyber harassment and said victims should keep emails, voicemails and text messages as evidence, because domestic violence can be difficult to prove.
“It’s hard dating, it’s hard being a teen, it’s hard starting relationships, but it’s appropriate for girls and boys to know appropriate dating behavior,” she said.
She advised the students to stick up for their friends, to help any victim get help and to tell any abuser to stop.
“As the Junior Police Academy, you are getting this education to be mindful if you see this,” she said.
Baumgartner said the Domestic Violence Response Team is available confidentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said there are legal guidelines pertaining to domestic violence, but help is still available for teenagers.
She even mentioned two students at the high school who had an abusive relationship, with the girl finally asking for a restraining order. Their classes had to be rescheduled so their paths would not cross. She said the girl was victimized by her friends who could not believe she took a legal route, but Baumgartner stressed the importance of speaking to a DVRT member, police officer, guidance counselor or parent if a dangerous situation should arise.
“Once an abusive relationship starts, it doesn’t stop,” she said. “Without intervention, counseling or anger management, the behavior doesn’t change.”
Pertaining to a question asked by a cadet, Baumgartner said cases can arise where the victim is lying; however, she said the police will do a full investigation. She noted lying is another type of controlling behavior.
She also addressed situations where an abuser will threaten to kill himself/herself should the partner leave. Baumgarter emphasized that “if the person decides to kill themself, it’s not on you, it’s their choice.”
Led by instructors John Hanrahan, Alex Obando, Fernandez and Kang, the students took part in various law enforcement-based activities from July 16-26, including motivational speeches, a drunk driving lecture, physical drills, a visit by the New Jersey State Police helicopter and a verbal Judo class.
“I learned a lot of respect for the things they do as officers. You need to be respectful at all times and think about your actions,” said Jared Tynes, an eighth-grader at Linwood Middle School who was inspired to join the academy because of his father, who is a corrections officer.
Pannun Raina, a ninth-grader at the high school, joined for the second year at the advice of his mother, who he said thought it would be a good way to stay active and learn discipline.
“I’ve learned our actions have consequences. And we shouldn’t be so focused on individual needs, but focus on the big picture and be a team player,” he said.
The cadets will participate in community activities throughout the year, such as memorial services, National Night Out and Police Week.
“Volunteering … stays with you for the entire year so you don’t forget it,” Pannun said.
Jared thanked the instructors, saying they offer “tough love.”
“They yell a lot, but in the classroom they are all really nice and are looking out for us,” he said.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.