He Says He Is Sorry…

February 10, 2010

Dating violence is defined by the United States Department of Justice as: “the perpetration or threat of an act of violence by at least one member of an unmarried couple on the other member within the context of dating or courtship.” Dating violence is the physical, emotional and/or verbal abuse of one partner by the other partner in a current or former dating relationship.

Abusive behavior is any act carried out by one partner aimed at hurting or controlling the other. Dating violence happens in male/female relationships as well as in lesbian and gay relationships.

A violent relationship means more than being hit by the person who claims to love or care about you. Violence is about power and control. When someone uses abuse and violence against you, it is always part of a larger pattern to try and control you. Even though most people think that violence in relationships happens only between married persons, the same kind of violence also happens between people who are dating regardless of their sexual orientation. Even if you are not being hurt physically, verbal and emotional abuse are just as painful and often lead to physical violence.

A Rise in Efforts to Spot Abuse in Youth Dating

Heather Norris was 17 when she met her boyfriend, and 20 when she died at his hands. In between, Heather Norris tried several times to leave the relationship, which was fraught withcontrol and abuse, before she was killed — stabbed, dismembered and discarded in trash bags.

Her death in 2007 in Indianapolis is one of several stemming from abuse in teenage dating relationships that have spurred states and communities to search for new ways to impress on adolescents — and their parents and teachers — the warning signs of dangerous dating behavior and what actions are not acceptable or healthy.

Texas recently adopted a law that requires school districts to define dating violence in school safety codes, after the 2003 stabbing death of Ortralla Mosley, 15, in a hallway of her Austin high school and the shooting death of Jennifer Ann Crecente, 18, two years ago. Rhode Island in 2007 adopted the Lindsay Ann Burke Act — prompted by the murder of a young woman by a former boyfriend — requiring school districts to teach students in grades 7 through 12 about dating abuse.

New York recently expanded its domestic violence law to allow victims, including teenagers in dating relationships, to obtain a restraining order against an abuser in family court rather than having to seek help from the criminal justice system. Legislators were moved to act after a survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that dating violence had risen by more than 40 percent since 1999, when the department began asking students about the problem.

Although there are no definitive national studies on the prevalence of abuse in adolescent relationships, public health research indicates that the rate of such abusive relationships has hovered around 10 percent. Experts say the abuse appears to be increasing as more harassment, name-calling and ridicule takes place among teenagers on the Internet and by cellphone.

“We are identifying teen dating abuse and violence more than ever,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, who began doing research on abuse in teenage dating relationships nearly a decade ago.

Dr. Miller cited a survey last year of children ages 11 to 14 by Liz Claiborne Inc., a clothing retailer that finances teenage dating research, in which a quarter of the 1,000 respondents said they had been called names, harassed or ridiculed by their romantic partner by phone call or text message, often between midnight and 5 a.m., when their parents are sleeping.

Such behavior often falls under the radar of parents, teachers and counselors because adolescents are too embarrassed to admit they are being mistreated.

They can seek help from the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, where calls and hits to its Web site, loveisrespect.org, doubled in November over the previous month. Awareness of the help line has grown since it was started in early 2007.

Most of the calls come from girls, often in response to relentless texting or efforts by boys to dictate what they do or wear.

While texting that runs to 200 or 300 messages a day can be a prelude to abusive behavior, William S. Pollack, a Harvard University psychologist and the author of “Real Boys” (1998) and “Real Boys’ Voices” (2000) about boys and masculinity, said his research had found that “usually when adolescent boys get involved with girls, they fall into the societal model which we call ‘macho,’ where they need to show they are the ones in control.”

Actions like nonstop texting or phoning often are efforts “to gain control back,” said Dr. Pollack, who is the director of the Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.

Reacting to the killings of Heather Norris and other girls by their romantic partners, Indianapolis started a program to train police officers in public schools to recognize the early signs of abuse in relationships. A group of Indianapolis organizations won a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help schools tackle the issue, part of $18 million in grants to 10 communities to help break patterns where children exposed to violence at home repeat it in their adult relationships.

The foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., decided to fund preventive efforts based on research, including from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. In the C.D.C.’s 2007 survey of 15,000 adolescents, 10 percent reported physical abuse like being hit or slapped by a romantic partner. Nearly 8 percent of teenagers in the survey said they were forced to have sexual intercourse.

Dating abuse victims, the center found, are more likely to engage in binge drinking, suicide attempts, physical fights and sexual activity. And the rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use are more than twice as high in abused girls as in other girls the same age.

“Few adolescents understand what a healthy relationship looks like,” Dr. Miller said.

Adolescents often mistake the excessive attention of boys as an expression of love, she said.

Kayla Brown, 18, was among them. At first, her high school boyfriend made a great impression last year when he “called my mother to introduce himself,” said Ms. Brown, a senior at an Indianapolis charter school.

Then he began “calling me every hour to see where I was and what I was doing,” she said. Finally, during an argument he slammed a chair into a cafeteria table and raised his fist.

She confided in her mother, who has suffered domestic violence, and followed her advice to break off the relationship. But it was not easy. For months, she had friends accompany her in the school hallways, even to the bathroom, to make sure she was not alone with him.

Deborah Norris, Heather Norris’s mother, said her daughter’s relationship with Joshua Bean also began innocuously but rapidly became threatening.

“When he would call or text her, she had to answer right away or there was trouble,” Ms. Norris said. “She became quiet and withdrawn around him, and that wasn’t like her.”

“She hadn’t seen him in four months,” she added, “and was getting ready to go to court because she had filed battery charges against him.”

Mr. Bean was convicted in Heather’s killing last September.

Ms. Norris, an accident investigator for the police, said, “What happened to Heather really opened the eyes of police, the people I work with, who used to look at domestic violence differently,” seeing it as a family matter.

What happened to Heather before she was killed is common in abusive relationships, said Stephanie Berry, the manager of community health at Clarian Health, a network of Indiana hospitals, which is leading the program being financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Many teenagers, Ms. Berry said, “see the jealousy and protectiveness as ‘Oh, he loves me so much.’ Girls make excuses for it and don’t realize it’s not about love, but it’s about controlling you as a possession.”

For Ms. Berry, 43, the issue is personal. Her high school boyfriend “wanted a commitment right away, which was very flattering,” she said. But she soon found herself “walking on eggshells,” she said.

Even after he went to college, she said, the relationship was so “addictive” that she kept returning — until it “turned violent and he beat me up when I was 21.”

A study, published last July in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, suggests that such behavior is not unusual. The study found that more than one-third of the 920 students questioned were victims of emotional and physical abuse by romantic partners before they started college.

The Indianapolis program will train older teenagers as mentors and teachers, coaches and parents as “influencers” who will talk to sixth, seventh and eighth graders about what is acceptable behavior in dating.

In her grief, Ms. Norris created heathersvoice.net to help girls learn when things are amiss in a relationship. “Heather always thought she could change people,” she said, “so I guess I’m trying to follow what she wanted.”

This 2006 Emmy nominated film about teen dating abuse and violence shows real teens telling their stories of dating abuse and violence. The film describes how dating abuse and violence starts, how it progresses, how the abuser acts, and how to recognize it.

Teen Dating and Abuse Stats:

  • 1 in 5 teens in a relationship have been hit, slapped or pushed by her/his partner
  • Teens are at higher risk of intimate partner abuse when comparing to adults.
  • Females ages 16-24 are more vulnerable to intimate partner violence than any other age group – at a rate of almost triple the national average.
  • Among female victims of intimate partner violence, a current boyfriend or former boyfriend or girlfriend victimized 94 percent of those between the ages of 16-19.
  • Between 1993 and 1999, 22% of all homicides against females ages 16019 were committed.
  • Half of the reported date rapes occur among teenagers.
  • Intimate partner violence among adolescents is associated with increased risk of substance use, unhealthy weight control behaviors, sexual risk behaviors, pregnancy, and suicide.
  • 50% of teens know someone who has been physically, sexually or verbally abused in a dating relationship.
  • 45% of girls know a friend or peer who has been pressured into either intercourse or oral sex.
  • 1 in 3 teens reports knowing a friend or peer who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped or physically hurt by their dating partner.
  • One 33% of teens who were in abusive relationship ever told anyone about the abuse.
  • Among 13-18 year old teens who have been in a relationship, 15% said they’ve had a partner hit, slap or push them. 4% of teens agreed that tit’s okay for someone to hit their partner if they really did something wrong or embarrassing. More Hispanic teens (135) reported that hitting a partner was permissible.
  • 30% of 13-18 year old teens reported worrying about their personal physical safety in a relationship.
  • 20% of 13-18 years old teens who have been in a serious relationship have been hit, slapped or pushed by a boyfriend or girlfriend

If you or a friend is involved in an abusive relationship please seek help. Talk with your parents, get the facts; call the crisis hotline to the agency in your county, or call the National Teen Dating Hotline, 1-866-331-9474 or visit their website, loveisrespect.org and speak to a Peer Advocate via online chat.

It’s not too late, YOU ARE WORTH IT!

Take care and STAY SAFE!
  1. February 10, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    We lost Demi in 2007 to TDV. We are actively advocating legislation in PA to put curriculum in our PA schools to teach the dangers and signs of an abusive, unhealthy dating relationship. If you reside in PA please visit http://www.demibrae.com and be proactive and contact your local state rep. and tell them to support House Bill 2026 (The Demi Brae Cuccia Bill). Our thoughts and prayers go out to Deborah Norris…Gary & Johanna Cuccia

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