Lauren Astley was 18 years old when she was beaten, strangled, and stabbed to death on July 3, 2011, by Nathaniel Fujita in the garage of his parents’ Wayland, Mass., home.
Lauren’s horrific death at the hands of her ex-boyfriend made headlines across the nation and became the subject of a “48 Hours” special entitled, “Loved to Death,” which drew attention to dating and breakup violence as it detailed the murder and Fujita’s trial. (He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in March 2013.)
The story is beyond comprehension and tragic on many levels, and it is certainly an extreme example of dating violence. But with February designated as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Lauren’s story made us think about this: We talk to our children about stranger danger. We warn them not to walk home alone at night. We caution them about online predators. But do we talk to them about dating violence?
With children entering relationships at a younger age, it’s important to have a discussion about the qualities of a healthy relationship. We also need to remember that our own relationships serve as a model for our children.
Dating violence can be physical, psychological/emotional or sexual, and includes stalking. It can take place in person or electronically, such as repeatedly texting or sharing sexual pictures online. It can begin as teasing or name calling, though what seems like “normal” behavior escalates over time and becomes increasingly dangerous for the young victim.
Research shows that 81 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue or say they don’t know if it’s an issue. Yet, the statistics indicate it’s something we should be aware of – and concerned about.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in 10 teens reported being hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the 12 months before completing the survey. Add emotional or verbal abuse to the physical aspect, and that figure rises to one in three teen girls in the United States who experience some form of dating abuse.
Sadly, many teens keep silent about abuse because they are afraid to tell family and friends: An estimated two-thirds of teens in an abusive relationship never tell anyone about the abuse, according to a 2005 study by Teenage Research Unlimited.
Anyone can be a victim of dating abuse; it does not discriminate based on gender, sexual identity, economic status, ethnicity or religious preference. Both boys and girls are victims, but they differ in the ways they abuse their partners. According to the Love is Respect website, girls are more inclined to yell, threaten to hurt themselves, pinch, slap, scratch or kick. Boys cause more injuries to girls and are more likely to punch their partner and force them to participate in unwanted sexual activity.
Violent relationships in adolescence can have serious long-term effects, as victims are at higher risk for eating disorders, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and further domestic violence.
An estimated 82 percent of parents felt confident they could recognize the signs if their child was experience dating abuse, yet 58 percent could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse, according to a study conducted by Teen Research Unlimited.
If you are wondering whether your teen is in an unhealthy relationship, here are some warning signs from the Love is Not Abuse website:
- She apologizes for his behavior and makes excuses for him.
- She loses interest in activities she used to enjoy.
- She stops seeing friends and family members and becomes more and more isolated.
- When your daughter and her boyfriend are together, he calls her names and puts her down in front of other people.
- He acts extremely jealous of others who pay attention to her, especially other guys.
- He thinks or tells your daughter that you (her parents) don’t like him.
- He controls her behavior, checking up on her constantly, calling and paging her, demanding to know who she has been with.
- She casually mentions his violent behavior, but laughs it off as a joke.
- You see him violently lose his temper, striking or breaking objects.
- She often has unexplained injuries, or the explanations she offers don’t make sense.
Help someone else
If your child expresses concern about someone they know who might be in an abusive relationship, reassure them that they can help. Here are some suggested you can both follow:
- Tell the person that you are worried.
- Be a good listener.
- Offer friendship and support.
- Ask how you can help.
- Encourage the friend to seek help.
- Educate yourself about dating violence and healthy relationships.
- Avoid any confrontations with the abuser. This could be dangerous for you and your friend.
Stop it before it starts
Don’t know where to start the discussion? the Loveisrespect.org offers information on teen dating violence.
LoveIsRespect.org also provides access to anonymous peer advocates. Chat online, call 866.331.9474 or text “loveis” to 22522.