When ‘Love’ Kills: Teen Dating Abuse

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I’ve been planning my 30th high school reunion, searching high and low for class of 1983 graduates.

This has brought up a lot of things for me:

How quickly time is flying. How the social barriers that existed in high school seem to have fallen away. I’ve talked to the jocks, the cheerleaders, the brains, the band geeks, the science nerds and the over-achieving student council members and realize we’re more alike now than we are different. We’re all just people trying to hold down jobs, nurture relationships, raise children and keep the clock at bay.

Life has humbled those of us who peaked in high school and opened up for those who didn’t.

But the overriding similarity is that all of us were born in 1964 or 1965. Which means we’re just happy to still be here. Because some of us are not. Some of us have already succumbed to cancer, heart disease, depression or freak accidents.

But there’s one classmate whose passing haunts me the most. Anna Marie (I’m omitting her last name to preserve her family’s privacy) should have graduated with the rest of us in 1983. She should have gone to college or taken a gap year and worked at The Limited. She should’ve gotten her dream job or realized it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. She should’ve fallen in love once or twice or, if she were like me, six times before settling down. She should have had the opportunity to learn from her mistakes and try again. She should have been able to hold a newborn baby in her arms if that’s what she wanted.

Instead, during the fall of 1982, her ex-boyfriend, Jim, lured Anna to a friend’s garage and strangled her to death. Some of the details of Anna’s story have slipped away from me over the years. But I remember Anna and Jim joined at the hip since junior high school. I remember thinking they were an odd match. Anna was pretty and popular, Jim seemed to hang in the background, silent, withdrawn.

By the time we all got to high school Anna seemed to fade away. She was still there physically, leaning up against lockers with Jim, driving away from school in his car, but she seemed somehow diminished, invisible. I’ll never know if this devolution is actually true, or if it just seems true now that I know how Anna’s story ends.

During our senior year Anna finally broke up with Jim. By all accounts he was outraged, angry. Several weeks after Anna went missing her corpse was found in a shallow grave in one of the ubiquitous orange groves that typified our home town. Her body was so decomposed she could only be identified by dental records.

During our graduation ceremony that spring we honored our fallen classmate by observing a moment of silence for her.

Afterward we lined up to receive our high school diplomas, the tickets to our future and left Anna back there on that football field. She existed only, for me, in that silent moment. I didn’t want to dwell on something so dark and unmoored from the world as I wanted to see it. Bright with possibility.

Several years later I worked on a movie-of-the-week for Lifetime TV based on a book by Dr. Jill  Murray called, But I Love Him: Protecting Your Teen Daughter From Controlling, Abusive Dating Relationships. I interviewed Dr. Murray and was astonished at the high statistics of teenage girls who were involved in violently abusive relationships and even more so by the chilling number of women who’d been murdered by their abusers. The murders would usually occur after the girl left her abuser, just as Anna’s had.

At the time of this project my own daughters were just 15-months and 3-years old, so I felt a safe distance from being the parent of a child in jeopardy. That happened to other people’s children, not mine.

Now my girls are eight and ten. They’re still too young to date, but their coming-of-age is just around the next corner. This, coupled with planning my reunion, has brought me back full circle to Anna. I’m humbled and horrified by the excruciating pain her family endured and perhaps still endures.

I find it’s time to hopefully honor Anna again by disseminating what I’ve learned in my research on Teen Dating Abuse in the hopes that awareness can lead to prevention. One thing I should make clear – most of the girls who are in these relationships come from good homes with loving families. An abuser is stealthy, patient and manipulative, staking his territory inch by inch on an unsuspecting victim.

4 risk-factors that can turn a young man into an abuser:

1.  Drug and alcohol abuse in the home by mother and/or father.

2.  Witnessing violence in the home.

3.  Absent, neglectful or unstable parents.

4.  An authority figure who regularly humiliates and shames him; even in public.

The following is an excerpt from But I Love Him that can help you determine whether your daughter (or son) is in an abusive relationship:

IS MY DAUGHTER IN DANGER?

• Before my daughter met her boyfriend, she had more friends than she does now.

• Her grades have declined in the past weeks or months.

• Before she started dating him, she was more outgoing and involved with her family, school activities, and/or place of worship.

• She frequently cries or is very sad.

• If he texts her, she must call him back immediately.

• He told her that he loved her early in their relationship.

• He is jealous if she looks at or speaks casually with another boy.

• He accuses her of behavior she doesn’t actually engage in.

• He is aggressive in other areas of his life: he puts his fist through walls or closets, bangs his fist to make a point, or throws things when angry.

• He frequently roughhouses or play-wrestles with her.

• She makes excuses for his poor behavior or says it’s her fault.

• They talk on the phone several times a day or for long periods.

• He has a “tragic” home life: he is or was physically abused or verbally demeaned, and/or one or both parents are alcoholics or use drugs.

• He drinks or uses drugs.  “My boyfriend is an alcoholic.

• He frequently gives her “advice” about her choice of friends, hairstyle, clothes, or makeup.

• He calls her demeaning names, then laughs and tells her he was only kidding or that she’s too sensitive.

• She has become secretive since she started dating him. She is miserable whenever she is apart from him.

• She has recently become very critical of her appearance, talents, or abilities.

• She frequently has to explain herself to her boyfriend or often says she’s sorry.

• She has bruises she cannot explain or appears nervous about explaining them to you.

In re-reading Dr. Murray’s list I can see that one of my earliest relationships was emotionally (though not physically) abusive. I was fortunate to emerge from that relationship and realize I needed therapy so I could make healthier choices.  Anna Marie never got that chance.

Anna cropped

This week on my blog is dedicated to Teen Dating Abuse.  If you are a teen in an abusive relationship or you suspect your child is in an abusive relationship there are several resources.  You can call or email:

Love Is Respect

or

The Hotline: Teen and Dating Abuse

This is not a sponsored post. I highly recommend Dr. Jill Murray’s book because I think it’s an excellent resource for parents and teens.

I think it’s a good book for young girls to read even BEFORE they start dating. It’s good for them to be able to discern the warning signs and red flags of an abuser before becoming too enmeshed.

Finally, to both parents and teens, remember that you’re not alone and there is help.

(My next post will be the story of how one young woman’s parents rescued her from a life threatening relationship her senior year in high school)

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Tags assigned to this article:
teen dating abuseTeen dating violence

18 comments

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  1. Carpool Goddess
    Carpool Goddess 16 January, 2013, 14:40

    That’s so horrifying and sad. I hope those boys were put away for life. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply this comment
  2. Jane Gassner (@MidLifeBloggers)
    Jane Gassner (@MidLifeBloggers) 16 January, 2013, 15:07

    This brought back memories of a couple my boyfriend and I used to hang out with in high school. I don’t remember their names, but they were part of our middle class Jewish class. I don’t remember him being verbally abusive or mean in any way. He just got a kick out of working daily to create a huge bruise on her thigh, which they then showed off to all who would like. I remember thinking that it was weird and dumb and why were they doing it, but it never occurred to me that it was abuse. It’s such an insidious thing, especially when you’re young.

    Reply this comment
  3. Caryl
    Caryl 16 January, 2013, 18:20

    Thanks for posting about this oft-forgotten issue. Violence against women is all around us; we can all arm ourselves to recognize the signs.
    Best,
    Caryl

    Reply this comment
  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer 17 January, 2013, 06:36

    This is a really good post. I am glad to see resources in communities to help victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. But, this s not enough. Prevention is the key. Teaching our children how to protect themselves, teaching them the warning signs abusers display, that is what will make a difference for their future, BEFORE they are abused. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 January, 2013, 10:25

      My hope was that this article would help prevention. Knowledge is power.

      Reply this comment
  5. tania luviano
    tania luviano 17 January, 2013, 06:48

    Those boys deserve life in prison! Domestic violence is a huge problem within the Hispanic community, is sad to see a those women suffering.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 January, 2013, 10:26

      I just found out that Anna’s killer is out of prison. I’m not sure how long he’s been out, I just hope he’s been rehabilitated. Wishful thinking probably.

      Reply this comment
  6. Pattie
    Pattie 17 January, 2013, 07:03

    My heart goes out to the poor girl and her family. I’ve seen this one too many times and it’s difficult because even though I see it, the person living it may not. I hope that there are many parents out there that will recognize these signs and do something about them. Thank you for such a story.

    Reply this comment
  7. TJ
    TJ 17 January, 2013, 07:41

    Pleased to see you’re featuring this topic. So, so very important of a message that doesn’t get enough air play. It’s difficult for a young, in love girl to believe flattering attention can turn into controlling abuse. They need to be able (as do their parents) to recognize what’s happening.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 17 January, 2013, 10:28

      Yes. I was surprised that there was teen dating abuse. I thought these things only happened when women were older i.e. Battered Wife Syndrome. I think part of the problem is that I see teenage love affairs as cute, puppy love that will pass. It was eye opening to realize that these abusive relationships can devastate not just a girl, but her entire family.

      Reply this comment
  8. IzzyMom
    IzzyMom 17 January, 2013, 09:44

    Life has humbled those of us who peaked in high school and opened up for those who didn’t

    I know this post is about dating violence but I have to say the above line really resonated.

    Thank you for writing about this important topic. It really struck a chord with this mom of a 12 year old girl.

    Reply this comment
  9. The Animated Woman
    The Animated Woman 17 January, 2013, 19:14

    I have to say this post could not have come at a better time for me, as a mom of two teen girls. The fact that it’s so well written will make it easy for me to share with them. Top notch Shannon.

    Reply this comment
  10. JOE WEBB
    JOE WEBB 18 January, 2013, 10:09

    jim o brian i think that was his last name, so long ago and yearbooks in attic.. lives 5 houses down from me, i found this out from a neighbor that lives behind his house and graduated from upland in 85.. i only knew jim in high school, him and anna sat next to me in social studies, i remember asking him if he had heard from his girlfriend after she “ran away”..and he said no he didnt know where she went..my neighbor tells me this that he served 20 years then was paroled, he learned computers in prison and created an app he sold to apple for a small fortune and came back to upland and bought the big house on the north side of 16th st between mt and san antonio.. if this is true and i have no reason to doubt my neighbor, its just really sad, wheres annas second chance at a life. I would hate to think if it was my daughter he killed and i knew he was out what i would do..I share this because if anyone that gained comfort knowing he was in prison well thats no longer true.just very sad..take care everyone Joe

    Reply this comment
  11. Cousin Kathie
    Cousin Kathie 28 January, 2013, 16:55

    Oh, yes. You are related to at least one of these women.Education has no bearing on this situation. With an assortment of grad degrees,his and mine,I let my smokescreen of romantic illusion hide the truth until the black eyes and broken heart were recognized and stopped by three friends, who took my keys, sent me to live somewhere else. and possibly saved my life.A woman is never too smart, too mature, or too old the fall victim , and God Bless you for focusing on teen dating abuse.

    Reply this comment
  12. Cheryl Nicholl
    Cheryl Nicholl 10 September, 2014, 19:41

    The closest I have ever come to something like this was that one of the boys next door (growing-up) raped a young girl, got her pregnant, and convinced her to run away with him. They did- and crossed State lines, whereby the FBI arrested him, sent her back to her parents, the baby was put up for adoption, and he landed in jail. Fifteen years later- he did it again. With another under-age girl. This time only probation and he’s wandering the state of Michigan. Oh boy.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 11 September, 2014, 09:15

      Hi Cheryl — what a horrific story. Not great knowing this time bomb is out there.

      Reply this comment

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