In the wake of several brutal murders involving teenaged girls and their abusive boyfriends, many states are implementing programs designed to educate young people about the dangers of unhealthy relationships and the signs of abuse.
Elizabeth Olson of The New York Times explores the recent push toward raising awareness and creating laws that protect juveniles who may be trapped in an abusive relationship, and sadly it seems that the states that are finally moving to protect young people are the same states where brutal attacks had to occur in order for lawmakers to really recognize that abuse amongst young daters is, in fact, a serious problem.
Olson notes the changes in Texas, which "recently adopted a law that requires school districts to define dating violence in school safety codes, after the 2003 stabbing death of Ortralla Mosley, 15, in a hallway of her Austin high school and the shooting death of Jennifer Ann Crecente, 18, two years ago," and goes on to detail programs in Indianapolis and Rhode Island which were similarly set into place after a young woman lost her life to an abusive partner. Olson also provides some startling numbers regarding the rise in teen violence over the past ten years; in New York state, lawmakers changed current domestic violence laws to allow teenagers to obtain restraining orders in family court "after a survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that dating violence had risen by more than 40 percent since 1999, when the department began asking students about the problem."
So what's to blame for the rise in abuse amongst teen daters? Technology may be part of the problem; with cell phones, internet profiles, and text messaging, obsessive partners have the ability to track their mates at all times, leaving little privacy or escape for those who feel trapped in an unhealthy situation. Dr. William S. Pollack of Harvard University explains the obsessive need to text as such: “usually when adolescent boys get involved with girls, they fall into the societal model which we call ‘macho,’ where they need to show they are the ones in control.” The overbearing "Where are you? Who are you with?" calls and texts, therefore, are a means to grasp that sense of control.
Kayla Brown of Indianapolis was trapped in such a relationship. Her former boyfriend was "calling me every hour to see where I was and what I was doing,” Brown says; he eventually ended up raising his fist to her in an argument. Brown followed her mother's advice (her mother had also suffered from domestic violence) and began ignoring the boy, which seems to have worked, yet other young women aren't so lucky. Heather Norris also had an obsessive boyfriend; her mother recalls that he would text her constantly: "When he would call or text her, she had to answer right away or there was trouble,” Deborah Norris says, “She became quiet and withdrawn around him, and that wasn’t like her.” The alarm bells were set off for a reason, sadly: Heather was brutally murdered in 2007 by her former boyfriend, Joshua Bean, who was convicted in September.
As a result, Heather's mother has created a website called HeathersVoice.net, which is designed to help young women spot signs of an abusive relationship. The Indianapolis police department has also had extensive training on how to spot the signs of abuse in relationships. Yet one can't help but feel heartbroken that young women have had to die in order for lawmakers to recognize that domestic violence and abusive relationships have no set age range. Perhaps the best we can do for our younger sisters, our friends, and our daughters is to give them the proper tools to recognize the difference between a boy who loves them and a boy who simply wants to control them. Knowing how to tell the difference may make all the difference in the world.