When Victims of Dating Abuse Are Too Scared to Tell


This week I’m focusing on teen dating abuse.

Yesterday I wrote about a former classmate who was murdered by her boyfriend after she broke up with him in 1983. (For this article I refer to the abuser as HE, and the victim as SHE, because statistically, a much higher percentage of girls are victims than boys.)

Today, I wanted to follow up with a teen dating abuse story that has a happier outcome. Nicole comes from a loving, Southern California Mormon family. She’s one of  seven daughters, her mother is a homemaker, her father a firefighter. During our interview she told me she might have been more vulnerable than other girls to an abuser because her father’s job kept him away from the family over long periods of time and she yearned for male attention.

But I know, from my comprehensive research, that teen dating abuse can happen to ANYONE’S DAUGHTER.

That’s because the abuser is at his best in the beginning of the relationship. He takes his time grooming his victim until she is hooked on him (sexually, emotionally). That’s when the abuse begins, little by little, until the girl becomes conditioned to keep secrets and withstand the worst kind of abuse.

Nicole’s nightmare began her junior year of high school. Because of her faith Nicole planned to remain a virgin until she married. Her boyfriend at the time became impatient with this and broke up with her. Nicole says this left her vulnerable and she rebounded with a popular classmate named Craig (a pseudoynm).

At first, Craig seemed perfect.

He played football on the high school team. After school he was a Fire Explorer. He wasn’t Mormon, but asked Nicole if he could go to church with her. Nicole’s parents loved him. He was charismatic, outgoing and great with her younger sisters. But three months in things changed.

Craig began to press Nicole for sex. By this time she was emotionally hooked. Even so, Nicole maintained that she wasn’t ready for sex, until the night Craig insisted she was.

As Nicole and I discussed this turning point she kept repeating the phrase, “He said I was ready for sex and I kept telling him I wasn’t. But he said I was …” as if she were trying to change the outcome of that sentence. But she couldn’t.

“He said I was ready for sex … so it happened.”

Over the phone line I could hear tears in Nicole’s voice.

Even though this memory was six or seven years old, it still had the power to devastate her. This prompted me to ask if what really happened was date raped? She responded “yes,” with the righteous anger of a person reclaiming their dignity.

On a side note, I can personally think of five women I know whose first sexual encounter was date rape. I myself was a victim of attempted date rape when I was twenty years old.

Date rape is common, and in some cases, more devastating than stranger rape because the victim often feels she’s somehow to blame.

Once Craig made his sexual conquest of Nicole, the abuse began in earnest, its trajectory was textbook:

1.  The abuser isolates his victim.

Craig wanted Nicole to pull away from her family. He didn’t want her hanging out with her friends. And if he caught her talking to a boy, he would pinch her so hard that he’d pop blood vessels. He made sure to pinch her in places no one could see.

2. He frequently gives her “advice” about her hairstyle, clothes or make-up.

Craig treated Nicole like she was his property. There were rules she had to follow or he’d get angry.

  • She couldn’t wear open-toed shoes.
  • She had to wear shirts and blouses that came all the way up to her neck, and skirts below the knee.

If she didn’t comply or made a mistake she received more brutal pinches. The physical violence began to include slapping and hitting in private.

3.  He has all the earmarks of an abuser.

Craig came from a broken home with no father, a single working mother who was an alcoholic. He was left to his own devices with no role models for a healthy relationship. When he hit Nicole at his house, his mother never intervened and would often just leave.

4.  The abuser calls his victim demeaning names, then laughs and tells her he was only kidding or tells her that she’s too sensitive.

Craig frequently called Nicole “trash” because she’d had sex with him. He criticized her body and pinched her in the places he thought she was “fat” or “flabby.”

5. When the victim tries to leave, the abuser escalates the violence; both emotionally and physically.

The first time Nicole tried to break up with Craig, he told her no one else would ever date her because she was akin to damaged goods. When she threatened to tell her parents and friends what he was doing, he convinced her no one would ever believe her.

That it was his word against hers and he was better respected. (Sadly when Nicole did finally share her situation with a friend, the friend didn’t believe her.)

When I asked Nicole why she didn’t go to her parents sooner, she said she thought she’d get in trouble for having sex.

Later, when things became really dangerous, she didn’t tell them because Craig threatened to “slit their throats,” which brings us to the penultimate stage of an abusive relationship. (The final stage being the death of the victim)

6.  The abuser makes death threats.

Craig first threatened to kill himself if Nicole left, then upped his ante by threatening to kill her parents until, finally, he threatened to kill Nicole.

In our conversation, I told Nicole that my classmate, Anna Marie, was found in a shallow grave in an orange grove, which sparked a memory for her. She told me there was an incident where she’d forgotten directions to a place Craig wanted to go get a tattoo.

He was so furious he told Nicole he was going to take her out to the desert, kill her and bury her where no one could find her. Nicole believed him completely. She decided to follow all of his rules so her parent’s wouldn’t have to suffer the fate of never knowing what happened to their daughter.

This prompted Nicole to leave home, abandon school and simply stay inside Craig’s house night and day, cooking and cleaning for him, because she thought if she didn’t go anywhere or see anyone then he wouldn’t kill her.

While living with Craig, Nicole was only allowed to speak with her family on the phone if Craig was sitting right next to her. And if she said anything he didn’t like he’d give her one of his hard pinches.

Throughout this time, Nicole’s parents were frantic.

They knew something was terribly wrong, but due to Nicole’s vigilance in keeping them out of it, they didn’t know the details.

They’d gone to the police to get help, but the police said their hands were tied until Craig committed a crime. Feeling helpless and desperate they hired a private detective to follow Craig. Craig realized he was being followed, which heightened his anxiety and took the violence to a new level.

He choked Nicole twice. The second time Nicole was certain she was going to die. She prayed desperately to survive and believes God interceded on her behalf.

In an act of desperation, Nicole asked her parents for legal emancipation.

She thought if she could somehow eradicate all the stress on Craig, things would get better. To her surprise her parents agreed. They asked her to come home to sign the papers. This was the first time in months Craig didn’t accompany Nicole outside of his house. She went alone.

She entered her old home with conflicting emotions. She was more forthcoming than usual with her anxious parents, intimating that she felt trapped in her current situation.

That’s when two “transport people” emerged from hiding and took her into custody.

Nicole was loaded into a van and driven to a juvenile facility two states away. She was given an orange jumpsuit like criminals wear. She was ordered to squat and cough so her detention officers could make sure she wasn’t carrying drugs. She was ostensibly in lock down.

Nicole would stay in this facility for thirteen months.

She participated in group therapy every weekday and private therapy once a week. Detoxing from an abusive relationship and relinquishing that co-dependency can be more difficult than detoxing from drugs and alcohol.

Her first few weeks in rehab, Nicole wrote letters to Craig explaining what happened to her (this is often the case with victims. They are so enmeshed with their abuser that they feel like they can hardly breathe without that person).

All of her letters were confiscated by facility personnel. Very slowly Nicole began to unwind. That clenching fear in her chest began to flow out of her. Finally, she was ready to write her autobiography. She wrote down everything that had happened to her.

Every injury Craig meted out, every cruel psychological dig he used to effectively isolate Nicole and destroy her self-esteem. When it was finished, she read it to her group and her therapist. The day she read her autobiography she tested out of the orange jumpsuit and into regular clothes. She was symbolically moving back toward life.

Nicole eventually read her autobiography to her parents.

They’d had no idea the extent of what Nicole endured and were devastated they hadn’t taken this drastic measure sooner. Shortly after that, Nicole was released. Today Nicole is a mother-of-two, married to a loving, kind man.

However, she still bears the scars from the past. She says that sex with her husband the first five years of their marriage was often physically painful and emotionally upsetting.

She says it’s only been since the birth of her second child that she is able to have what she calls “normal sex.” Or what she imagines normal sex should be.

Nicole and Craig still live in the same town.

Craig has also married and has a child. Nicole is terrified for his wife and son. But on a recent Halloween she saw Craig across the street taking his child trick-or-treating. Their eyes met briefly before they both looked away. She realized, in that moment, that she wasn’t afraid of him anymore.


If you are a victim of abuse, or suspect your child may be a victim of abuse, please seek help because you deserve respect and kindness:

Love Is Respect or The Hotline: Teen and Dating Abuse

I have just been contacted by “Craig’s” wife who claims this story is false. It should be noted that this story was reported to me by Nicole and I believe her to be telling me the truth. I shall, however, concede this story is my opinion, not an indictable fact.  If “Craig” wants to tell his version of the story, I will make space here for him to do so.

17 thoughts on “When Victims of Dating Abuse Are Too Scared to Tell”

  1. WOW!!! What a powerful story. This just reinforces the necessity of parent involvement in a child’s life. I’m so eternally glad that her parents sent her to the juvenile detention center and that she received the necessary counseling to get her back on track. I can’t imagine living in the same town as her abuser, and I hope that the abuser’s new family is not in the same danger as she was. Thank you for sharing her story.

    1. Hi Patti — I do think these stories have to be shared because they’ll like a map showing you which direction is potentially dangerous. When you’re not an abuser it’s impossible to understand how they operate. We think they’re going to be like us and we often give them the benefit of the doubt or make excuses for them because we’re too compassionate.

    1. Nicole actually communicated with the new wife’s family and told them her story. She hopes that Brad has gotten help and isn’t perpetuating the cycle of violence on a new generation. Knowledge is power. Years ago a mentor told me there’s a difference between being “judgmental” of a damaged person and having “good judgment” about them. For me with regards to Nicole’s story this means it’s not my place to righteously judge Brad, I have no idea what he’s been through that’s caused him to become an abuser. His story may be equally as harrowing as Nicole’s. But I can have “good judgment” about him and men/women like him, which is to keep my distance and teach my loved ones to do the same.

  2. These are really powerful stories. I hope that your writing is shared among the masses.

    Instead of choking, those in the business tend to call it being strangled. I have a link at work that I’m going to spam you with next week that I think you’ll be interested in; it is geared more towards law enforcement and medical personnel for investigative use, but the training I attended was emotional. It was all about strangulation.


    1. Caryl please do send me the link. Anna Marie was killed by strangulation and Nicole thought she’d die when Brad strangled her. When my daughters hit junior high I plan to take the three of us through a Model Mugging course. Years ago a roommate of mine invited me to her graduation and I don’t think there was a dry female eye in the bleachers.

  3. Catherine McIver

    I just wanted to say I found your blog the other day, I’m not sure how I happened upon it, but I am enjoying it! Thank you.

    Just a suggestion to accommodate the newbies that find your blog. I have a thing about reading the posts in order and when I find a blog I like, I want to start from the beginning. Can you think about putting the “newer posts, older posts” directional arrows at the bottom of the page so the new readers can backtrack and get up to speed? Just a thought. Again, thanks for your blog.

  4. Will do. Victims can suffer cognitive impairments as a result of strangulation, as well. I’m sure you’ve also reached out to local law enforcement/domestic violence advocates in your area who can also give you the quick low-down, but if you haven’t, just a suggestion…. we have WEAVE (Women Escaping A Violent Environment) in our area.

  5. Catherine McIver

    Thanks so much! I found the beginning and I’m all up to speed now. Eagerly awaiting your next post…..

  6. Shannon-
    My name is Kayleigh- “Craig’s” wife. This morning we heard about the link on facebook to your blog for all of Nicole’s friends to see. We printed copies of the original blog and have gone to the police for the slander of Brad’s name. As a respected and well-known writer I believe it is your job and responsibility to get both sides of the story; which is why I’m giving it to you. Brad and I have been together now for 5 amazing years. We have the most beautiful, loving and smart three-year-old son together. Brad has been dealing with the slander of his name since the demise of he and Nicole’s relationship. When I read you blog, I was absolutely horrified. The things that Nicole told you about Brad were the most horrific things I have ever heard. Everything that came out of her mouth is one lie on top of another lie. No longer is Nicole only messing with Brad’s life, she’s messing with OUR lives. Nicole isn’t the only one who has to walk around our small town. Brad, myself, and our son live here too. Brad has NEVER disrespected me in any way, shape or form. He is the most amazing father and husband I could ever ask for. Nicole needs to move on, it was high school…this is OUR adult lives…my life, my son’s life. The town where he will eventually have to go to school. For her to devalue my husband and our family is WRONG. She claims to be a highly religious person, yet she has no sorrow about placing this label on our family, that WE have to deal with…not HER. For all of you who read this, I hope you think twice before you judge a person who you’ve never met, and I hope you pray that Nicole finds the peace and strength she needs to confront her lies.

    1. Kaleigh – I don’t believe it was Nicole’s intent to defame “Craig.” It would have been wiser for us to give them both a pseudonym in my initial draft. Having said that, if your husband would like to tell me his version of the account I’m happy to give him equal space to do so. My contact email is on my About page.

  7. I love that you’re doing this series, Shannon. It’s so hard for women to talk about this. You’ve made me really question something going on with a friend and her husband.

  8. This kind of post makes me remember high school, when all the boys were supposed to try to get in all the girls’ pants, and if you wouldn’t let them, they’d withdraw affection. If they did stick around, every date was another change for the boy to ‘help’ the girl change her mind.
    As an adult, I view this relationship style as imbalanced and abusive. I wish my parents had helped me see that my desires and convictions were more important than some boy’s desires and weaknesses. Instead, I felt that my role was The Guardian of Virtue, but it was exhausting. How many times did I hear, ‘Boys only want one thing?’ Often enough to make me see their desires as natural, and my own desires as wrong; therefore, myself as indefensible. My first sexual experience (at 14!) may not have been physically a rape, but it was certainly the culmination of a months-long emotional coercion.

    Now I know it’s not ‘natural’ for males to be sexual predators; they have to learn that behavior by role modeling and media. It’s not ‘natural’ for women to be only passive receptors of affection and lust; we’re not the ones responsible for minding the boys’ behavior. We need to teach our daughters the primacy of their own sexual personae, and the power of being unique individuals; that sex is powerful enough to make our own decisions about, that we need not allow pressures to deform us, and that we need never be ashamed of whatever those decisions may be.

  9. Sent you the info from my work email last week, but I’m guessing this series has been derailed…

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