Her brown eyes pooled with tears and her lower lip quivered as she timidly approached.
“My dad has been abusing me since I was little. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t hurting me.”
This brave teenager’s bold admission caught me off guard. After three days of talking with local high school students about abuse in dating relationships, I should have expected one of them to come forward. I could see it in the eyes of some as I spoke openly about emotional and physical abuse. My words had touched tender spots, hit home.
The girl assured me that she isn’t living with her abusive dad now, and that he will finally face a judge because of what he’s done. She is getting counseling, but she is still afraid. Sounds at night make her jump. She said she watches constantly, thinking he may follow her to school or to her grandmother’s house while he is bonded out awaiting the trial. She has been diagnosed with PTS — Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
Caused by a father who is supposed to love her.
My heart breaks for this young woman, as it does for the many who know all too well the heartache of abuse. In my work for Elijah Haven Crisis Intervention Center, I share with teenagers truths about abuse in dating relationships.
I tell them that, statistically, one in every four high school students reports having been psychologically abused by a dating partner. At least 12 percent, and as high as 40 percent in some parts of the country, of teens say they have been physically victimized by a dating partner. Nearly 40 percent of date rapes happen to young women between the ages of 14 and 17.
We talk frankly about what to look for in a dating partner, how to know if behavior is abusive, what to do if they find themselves in an unhealthy relationship. We talk about the consequences of physical and emotional abuse, for both the victim and the abuser.
We also talk about the fact that adults who use violence with their dating partners usually began being abusive as a teenager. Dating abuse is reported as early as the sixth grade.
For the young woman who came forward, and for others like her who are abused by an adult they should be able to trust, choosing who to date can be a tricky matter. It’s important to help them understand that they deserve better than they’ve received from someone who “loved” them.
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. In the coming weeks, a cast of nine teenagers from my area will work together to create awareness through the original drama “The Outrage”. These teens will perform the drama in their local high schools and in the community. They’ve already seen abusive dating relationships among their friends, and they want others to know “If you’re not outraged, then you’re not informed.”
As I work with these teens to stage the drama “The Outrage”, I will spend time here sharing what I’ve learned about abusive relationships, particularly among teens. To help you become aware — and outraged — you can view a video here featuring Allison Basinger, the author of “The Outrage”, as she talks to teens in Kansas about teen dating violence and abuse.
If you know a teen who is in an abusive relationship, talk to them. If they can’t or won’t talk to you, give them this toll-free telephone number: 1-866-331-9474. Or direct them to this Web site. Urge them to get help and to break the cycle of abuse, for themselves and for their abuser.
Tell them that they deserve better, that they are worthy of genuine, healthy love and respect.