Heather Norris loved her family, her friends, school and sports. Her wide, friendly smile and blonde good looks made Heather popular among her classmates. As she graduated from high school, Heather made plans for a future that included college and, someday, marriage to the man of her dreams.
Sadly, in 2007, Heather’s life ended too soon when the young man she had begun dating at the close of high school brutally murdered her following nearly two years of abuse.
Heather was just 20.
Debbie Norris, Heather’s mother, launched a campaign in the year of her daughter’s death to create awareness of the heartache of dating violence. Because of her efforts, Indiana passed a law in April, 2011 named for her daughter. “Heather’s Law”, SEA 316, requires Indiana’s Department of Education, in collaboration with organizations that have expertise in dating violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse, to make available educational materials and reporting policies on the subject of teen dating violence. In her daughter’s memory, Debbie continues to share information about dating violence on her Web site, Heather’sVoice.com.
Dating violence and sexual abuse are not easy subjects to discuss in a classroom full of teenaged boys and girls. The frank conversation is uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing. The words can be raw and full of emotion. For some, there is truth in the descriptions of violence and abuse…….truth because they see it in a friend’s dating relationship, or in their mother’s or sister’s. Sometimes, in their own.
But the pain and lasting impact of an abusive relationship outweigh any discomfort brought on by frank conversation. Warnings and truths must be voiced and shared to protect others from a life lived in fear or worse, cut short by an abusive dating partner.
What our teens need to know is that physical, emotional and sexual abuse in any relationship is a matter of CONTROL. Controlling and possibly abusive behavior could include:
Frequently checking up on you and always needing to know where you are and what you’re doing.
Threatening to hurt themselves if you break up with them.
Isolating you from your family and friends.
Humiliating and belittling you in front of friends.
Acting jealous and possessive.
Calling you names, kicking, hitting or pushing you.
Causing you to believe you can not make your own decision.
Making you fearful of expressing your own thoughts and feelings.
In our classroom discussions, we call these “red flags.” They may seem insignificant when considered one at a time, but these and other controlling behaviors can be harmful and are forms of psychological abusive.
Heather’s abuse began with control. Her boyfriend isolated her, then he beat her. She ended the relationship many times, but went back because (in her words, quoted by her mother)
“I wanted to think that I could change him,
that he didn’t really mean to hurt me……”
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The discussion about relationship violence has been held in classrooms throughout our community over the past several months. In February, we will continue the discussion through the presentation of the original drama “The Outrage: An Educational Journey Through Teen Dating Violence and Sexual Assault”. Nine teens from local schools will present the drama before their peers and to the public.
I plan to continue to share with you here what I am telling teens in my part of the world about dating violence, and I’ve invited a survivor of domestic violence to share her story in the coming weeks.
This is a message that must be heard — by the one in five teenage girls who report being physical or sexually abused by a dating partner. And by the young men and women who may, like Heather, become victims because they didn’t or couldn’t believe that love shouldn’t hurt.