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Facing the Real Problem of Teen Dating Violence

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Carly Loper from North Penn High School examines this issue.

Picture yourself in class – it’s you, the teacher, and twenty-five of your classmates.  The scary reality is statistically speaking, nine of your peers (possibly even you) have experienced physical or sexual abuse from a either a boyfriend or girlfriend.  The horror continues:  one out of four women is sexually abused while one out of six men is also victim of sexual assault all before their eighteenth birthday. These statistics are not sexist, racist, or prejudiced - anyone can be the victim just as anyone can be the abuser.

But how does one identify an abuser? With kids becoming involved in “dating” relationships as early as eleven and twelve years of age the characteristics of the oppressed and the oppressor vary drastically. From the twelve year old navigating a new school to the fourteen year old taking part in extracurricular activities to the sixteen year old driving for the first time to the eighteen year old making plans for after graduation - each one is susceptible to the violence and each one is capable of committing the violence; therefore, there is no clear indicator of who is and who is not capable of abuse.

But what defines that the relationship is not healthy? Dating violence is dominating power or commanding control over a partner through abusive behavior. But what is considered abusive behavior? Abusive behavior is not one single act but can rather take multiple forms all in which end up with the same result: malcontent, low self-esteem, and depression of the victim. It can be verbal, sexual, physical, or emotional. Once a boyfriend or girlfriend shows signs of disregard for the other’s feelings and emotions, the relationship can turn abusive and usually conditions deteriorate over time.

Scenario 1: Ridicule and Belittlement

“John Chasten, you’re such a dork!” exclaims one of his girlfriend’s unwanted and uninvited friends.

“Why is she here anyways?” John thinks to himself. John can feel his palms accruing moisture at the mere appearance of Suzy’s friends as they approach unannounced. He becomes, as always, uneasy and rather nervous as the girls giggle and criticize him. This time is no different, even if “dork” isn’t that offensive of an insult. Even so, John feigns haste looking at his watch and remarking that he and Suzy need to get moving if they want to be on time for the movie.

“Don’t be stupid, the movie doesn’t start for another half-hour,” Suzy quickly retorts. John has been annoying Suzy lately and she feels at the end of her rope; she can’t take his pestering quirkiness anymore. She loves her boyfriend, but sometimes he really knows how to get on her nerves. She finds pleasure in her friends’ comments to John secretly hoping that it will make him change to be less “dorky.”

Since John can’t evade Suzy’s and her friends’ belittlement of him, he starts to tune them out as Suzy continues to jeer at him. He keeps his mouth shut knowing that whatever he says Suzy will contradict him making him feel stupid and inferior. It’s not until Suzy drops a remark about his rejection from the school of his dreams that he is drawn back into the conversation.

“He was sure he was going to get in, but even UNC knew he was too good to be true.” At that, John becomes flushed with anger. He had told her that in confidence! His rejection from UNC had been a big blow to him, and Suzy knows the topic is still sensitive. She looks at him with a taunting gaze, yet he feels his anger subside. That’s just Suzy being Suzy and it’s nothing to make a scene about. “I’ve known her long enough to know that she didn’t really mean it,” he rationalizes to himself. Or did she mean it?

Scenario 2: Physical Violence

“I-I-I I’m sorry, Christy,” Nick stammers.  He stands there shocked, frozen in place. His body is numb. The only sensation he can register is the tingling in his right hand as his blood pulses through it. What has he done?

Christy lay on the ground, whimpering.  She too is numb but only in her jaw. She is unaware of the damage done as she can’t feel the blood pooling under the skin transforming her plush pale cheek from rosy to blue. The metallic taste of blood in her mouth activates her senses. She looks up at Nick, the movement triggering a throbbing pain that shoots through the right side of her face.

Normally she would have been overcome with fear, waiting for the next blow. But this episode was rather quick. Nick is already drained of his aggression, and she can vividly see guilt overwhelming him. 

This isn’t the first time Nick has hit Christy, but other times, it has been easier to hide the bruises under her clothing. Based on the numbness of her face, Christy realizes the excuse, “oh I just bruise easily,” won’t suffice when confronted by her parents, friends and peers.  What will she say? How will she hide this?  She doesn’t need to feel the hot flow of tears sliding down her tender cheeks to know she is crying, and the salty stream becomes stained black as it carries her eye makeup with it. This can be overlooked, she decides. “He didn’t mean to hurt me; he said he was sorry and that he loved me; it’s ok,” Christy hesitantly assures herself that it won’t happen again.

Scenario 3: Aggressive Possession

*Phone vibrates*

Alex instinctively throws his hand over his pocket pressing down on his phone to muffle the repetitive tone. He knows its Camille from science class, but this is the third time in a row his phone has gone off; what could be so important? Their lab isn’t due for another two days…

“Who’s that?” Sarah demands already fishing into his pocket for his phone.  Personal bubbles don’t exist with her as she finds what she’s looking for and taps in the code unlocking his iPhone and accessing his messages. Here we go.

“Who’s Camille?” The jealousy in her voice is unmistakable as she becomes defensive all the while oppressive and demanding.

Alex nonchalantly shrugs it off as he conveys the truth: it’s just a girl from science class. But Sarah has already clammed up and his story is regarded with suspicion. He tries changing the subject, offering up a new topic, asking about the current drama about her best friend, complimenting her even – anything to get her mind off his phone. It works temporarily, however a twinge of resentment lingers in her stature accentuating the color of her shirt: dark green.

Alex deems the plan a success and an argument has been avoided as he slyly puts his arm around Sarah.  Then just as he slowly reaches for his phone to silence the ringer, the signal of a new text message triggers a full throttle of jealousy.

“I forbid you to talk to her, find a new science partner,” Sarah concludes her tantrum, and Alex knows better than to object. He knows Sarah’s capability and regarding what happened last time when she threatened to cut herself if he did not opt out of a family trip in order to stay in town for the weekend, he wasn’t going to take chances. “She needs me and that’s what I am here for – that’s the role of a boyfriend. Plus I don’t care about Camille, right? It’s no big deal,” he decides. Whatever it takes, just as long as Sarah doesn’t get upset….

Scenario 4: Sexual Abuse

The lighting was dim and the room was deserted: everyone had conveniently cleared out and Connor couldn’t help but to take advantage of the ideal opportunity.  He found himself lip-locked with Kate as he slowly lowered her down forcing her horizontal on the couch. Sensations overwhelmed his body and he could feel his instincts overcoming his thoughts and controlling his movements. He dominantly pressed his body into hers as he felt her hands push against his chest in opposition. As he glided his hand up her shirt, Kate pulled back confirming his expectations:

“No,” she said.

No - that simple little two letter word; the word that even infants come to master; the word that can bring everything to an end; the word with the universally clear definition: stop, don’t -The word that had no effect on Connor.  Persuasion, adamancy, and force worked in his favor as someone from the party recalled hearing a distant cry but didn’t think twice about it.

Kate found herself debating morality that night. As tears trickled down her cheeks she tried to suppress the memory, but it persistently continued to replay in her mind, haunting her.  She found herself drowning in a mix of emotions as she was overwhelmed with a concoction of fear, depression, uncertainty, shame, and discomfort. “How did this happen? What am I supposed to do now? Should I tell someone? But what if they judge me? Blame me? I mean, maybe it is my fault. He is my boyfriend after all and we love each other, so it’s ok, right? This is what people do when they’re in love, is it not?” Kate thought to herself. Why save myself for someone else?

How does this end?

Dating violence can lead to dire consequences in which the victim’s emotional, physical, and mental states are impaired, and ongoing abuse can cause severe, irreversible, and even fatal damage if the victim is not helped. A significant other should build you up, not tear you down. As you grow as a person and as a couple, you should find yourself enjoying the moments shared together. You, nor the people you know, should not be living in fear, regret, or despair due to an abusive partner. The best cure for an illness is to rid oneself of the disease and the best way to end the abuse is to end the relationship. If you or someone you know are victim to assault confide in a friend and make your voice heard. Help is here.

National Dating Abuse Helpline: 866-331-9474 // 866-331-8453 (TTY)

Text Hotline: text “loveis” to 77054

And for more information or signs and tips on dating violence visit:

http://www.loveisrespect.org/

http://www.nomore.org/

Laurel House February 06, 2013 at 02:03 PM
Beautifully written! Thank you for bringing attention to teen dating violence! It is great a young person is bringing attention to this issue and helping connect others to resources available.

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