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'I can never get rid of him ... I hate having to live that way'

'I can never get rid of him ... I hate having to live that way'

Campaign targets dating violence
'I can never get rid of him ... I hate having to live that way'
From Control Isn't Love campaign.
Photographer: Screenshot

Joan still has nightmares about the yelling and punching.

It’s been years since she stopped dating him, but the memories are fresh. The abuse, she said, began when she was 13 and didn’t stop until she was 19.

The first few months of the relationship were peaceful, said Joan, who asked that we not use her real name because she remains concerned for her safety.

“But then I started noticing his anger come out,” she said.

He punched holes in her bedroom walls, screamed at her and then slapped her. She tried breaking up with him more than once; they would always end up back together.

For years, she hid the bruises and lied about the popped blood vessels and the handprints on her face, denying how bad they were and hoping none of it would happen again.

Even after her boyfriend moved in with Joan’s family -- because he was struggling financially -- she lied about how the relationship was going to her mom and dad.  

Her mother works with victims of domestic violence but didn’t see the signs during the first year or two. Those signs became increasingly difficult to cover up.

Neighbors would frequently call the police with complaints of yelling and the sound of breaking furniture. Joan went to the hospital several times for injuries, including some that needed stitches.

Joan's experience is not uncommon. According to the Department of Education, one out of three teens between the ages of 14 and 20 has experienced dating abuse.

In New York State, 996 cases of teen dating violence were reported in 2015, according to the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. That was an 8 percent increase from 2014.

And it doesn’t end after high school: 43 percent of college women reported experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors, including physical, sexual, verbal and controlling abuse, to the DOE.

In Joan's case, the abuse continued even after she obtained a restraining order against him -- four years after they began dating.

“It never phased him, though,” Joan said. He continued reaching out and bribed her with gifts to date him again.

Finally, the abuser was sent to jail when Joan was 19, after he violated the restraining order too many times.

“For the first year he was in prison, I immediately wanted to get back with him,” Joan said, “I was always hoping for a better day.”

It took more than a year of separation for her to realize how much better her life was without him.

She started attending events like Take Back the Night and volunteering at the YWCA for various fundraisers. Eventually, she found a new boyfriend, a relationship she describes as healthy, and is now married.

Although her marriage is healthy, she has anxiety and frequent nightmares about her abuser, who was released from prison in 2016 and still attempts to contact her.

“I can never get rid of him . . . I hate having to live that way,” Joan said.

To bring attention to the issue of dating violence, New York has launched a campaign called Control Isn’t Love, developed by the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

It’s a media campaign that focuses on raising awareness of some of the signs of teen dating violence via a website and through hashtagging the phrase “control isn’t love” on various social media platforms.

Representatives from the OPDV in February, for example,  worked with students from Troy High on the signs of teen dating abuse and violence.

A 2016 report by the American Educational Research Association found that, while awareness programs in general in public schools increased the number of students who believed teen dating abuse was wrong, the programs did not decrease the rate of teen dating abuse and violence.

Demekia Santana has been working with Schenectady High School, through the YWCA, to educate students about domestic violence and teen dating violence and abuse.

Santana said many students live in homes where some form of domestic violence is normal, which can lead to a normalization of abuse in their dating lives. Specifically, teens who have been exposed to domestic violence from a young age, are more likely to mistake abuse for love, Santana said.

Teens are typically reluctant to admit they’re in an abusive relationship.

“It’s like going to sit with the new kid at lunch,” Santana said,  “other kids will ask, 'why would you do that?' ”

The stigma can be greater for male teens who may be experiencing abuse from their partners, according to Santana. In her time working with high school students, no male students have reached out to her for help.

Maggie Fronk, executive director of Wellspring, an organization dedicated to ending relationship violence, said the signs of an abusive relationship are more subtle than most people realize.

Take texting, for example. Frequently texting a loved one is fine, but if it becomes a burden on one person, it’s considered a form of abuse, Fronk said.

Other controlling behaviors, such as walking through the school hallways with a tight grip on a significant other or extreme jealousy can also be difficult for teens to categorize as anything but love.

These behaviors may lead to isolation from friends and family. Other more obvious behaviors include physical abuse and extreme criticism about appearance or intelligence.

While it can be difficult to get teens (and adults) to recognize the signs of teen dating abuse, Fronk said friends are usually more likely to convince a victim to get help.

Wellspring provides counseling not only for victims of teen dating abuse, but for friends who have witnessed it. Counselors work with the friend (or the secondary victim) to find the best way to help the victim.

There are representatives from Wellspring at Shenendehowa High School, Saratoga High School and Skidmore College.

Other organizations, including Planned Parenthood, United Way and YWCA, also have programs available to help victims of teen dating abuse.

Need help or think someone in your life might?

Call Wellspring hotline: (518) 584-8188 or visit: http://www.wellspringcares.org/

Call Planned Parenthood’s Schenectady location at (518) 374-5353

Call YWCA at (518) 374-3394 or visit http://www.ywca-northeasternny.org/

Call New York State’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline at 1-800-942-6906

Call Unity House at (518) 272-2370 or visit http://www.unityhouseny.org

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