Rachel was dating the local high school basketball star. Ian was charming, well-liked and handsome. He showered her with gifts. He told Rachel that she made him stronger and he was a better person for having her in his life. She stopped responding to her friends’ texts and her presence faded from social gatherings. “She’s with Ian,” they’d say.
Entering her senior year, Rachel decided not to try out for the soccer team after Ian said practices and games would interfere with their time together. The two became practically inseparable. When Rachel’s friends tried to include her in “girls only” outings, Ian accused them of trying to sabotage his relationship. Rachel would comply obediently and reject the invitation.
One Friday evening, Rachel reluctantly accepted an invitation to celebrate her best friend’s birthday. Ian had a basketball game and was agitated that Rachel agreed to attend the party without him. Despite his efforts to change her mind, Rachel went. At the end of the evening, Rachel was surprised to find Ian leaning against her car on the street. He threw an empty bottle into the nearby bushes as Rachel approached. He grabbed her and shoved her into the car. She could smell the alcohol on his breath. Ian screamed about his awful performance and fumed that it was her fault for taking his focus off the game. When Rachel tried to reason, he slapped her. Blood trickled down her lip.
The next morning, Rachel awoke to a text message that read, “I’m so sorry. I love you.” When her mom asked Rachel what happened to her lip, she responded, “Oh, you know. I’m just clumsy. Wasn’t watching where I was going.”
Rachel knew Ian was sorry. He was just frustrated; it wasn’t really his fault. He cared for her. Last night was a one-time thing. They were in love. People sometimes do crazy things when they are in love.
Accepting that the person you love is abusing you is difficult. Many victims don’t realize they are being abused until it is too late—seemingly perfect relationships progressively turn life-threatening, resulting in approximately 6 domestic violence deaths per day in the U.S.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and knowing the facts is the best defense to keeping teens safe. The National Youth Risk Survey indicates 1 in 3 U.S. teens will experience dating violence. Dating violence can come in many forms including physical harm, emotional abuse, sexual assault and/or stalking. Abusive relationships are rarely apparent in the beginning. After months or years of building what seems like the perfect relationship, an abuser will assert power, holding his or her partner in a psychological trap making them believe what is happening is the victim’s fault. While some abuse is physical, it is more often psychological. Abusers may even go as far as to intentionally impregnate a female partner in an attempt to make her solely dependent on him or in reverse for a female to become pregnant under false pretenses in order to make a male partner obligated to her.
Dating violence can happen to anyone, regardless of male, female, young, old, race, socioeconomic status, or educational level. Knowing the warning signs may help you identify a friend or loved one victimized by dating abuse:
- Intense mood swings
- Loss of interests
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Signs of physical harm
- Drug use
- Unexplainable fear
- Sabotage or discontinued use of birth control
- Sexual activity
- Inability to make decisions without partner’s consent
You may also observe red flags in a partner that can indicate abuse is occurring: aggressive or controlling behavior, paranoia, verbal put-downs, insisting on unprotected sexual contact, isolating or threatening behavior, monitoring technology use, unwillingness to spend time apart, stalking, interests in violence, and jealousy. Many abusers learn these behaviors from abuse as a child.
One of the leading questions for people involved in abusive relationships is, “Why didn’t they just leave?” It’s not always so simple. Many victims want to believe they can do something to fix the relationship. Some may fear their partner will hurt them or their loved ones if they leave. Financial dependence and separation from their support system may leave victims feeling they have nowhere to go. Two-thirds of dating abuse victims remain silent about their abuse often because of fear, guilt or shame.
If you or someone you know is experiencing dating abuse, speak up. Resources such as loveisrespect.org or contacting the Mississippi Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1.800.898.3234 can help you navigate difficult situations. Your voice is your most powerful tool—tell the police, neighbors, friends, family, teachers, even strangers until you get help. Love shouldn’t hurt. Help end teen dating violence.