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Panelists Explore Signs of Dating Abuse

teendatingScenario: You are walking down your street and in the distance, you see someone, a stranger, walking in your direction. You continue walking towards one another. You assume that he will walk passed you, and expect that the two of you won't share any sort of interaction, as this is what happens with most strangers. However, as he passes, you hear him mutter something extremely vulgar and disrespectful. You are offended, astounded, scared and angry. You turn around to strike back with a verbal assault of your own, but decide that escalating the conflict would be risky and immature. So instead, you begin walking away. Seconds later, you are struck in the head with a forceful punch. There is no one around to help you. You feel violated, victimized and abused. Would you allow this mad man to continue beating you, perhaps until you awake in a hospital bed? Or do you fight back, recognizing that you must protect yourself and achieve some sort of retribution?

Most people would agree that being abused, in any form; by another person is immoral, illegal and completely unacceptable. And most people believe that if they found themselves in a situation where they were being or had been abused, they would find a way to stop the abuse and seek proper retribution.

In the fictional scenario above, someone was violently assaulted by a complete stranger. That is an obvious form of abuse, and would be recognized as such by all parties involved, both internal and external.

But what if the abuse occurs within a "loving" relationship? What if the abuser is a boyfriend, girlfriend or significant other? How can you recognize abuse when you have an affinity for the abuser?

Danielle DeZao knows firsthand about the ambiguous, discreet nature of dating abuse. After entering one of her first dating relationships at Marist College, she felt all the initial excitement of attraction. However, soon that thrill collapsed into verbal fights, control over her activities, and eventually physical abuse.

Danielle and her mother Denise shared their story May 22nd at the Scarsdale Woman's Club as part of the Love Shouldn't Hurt campaign, a program designed to inform parents about dating abuse, and to arm them with knowledge to help their own children when it comes to dating and healthy relationships. Danielle and Denise were joined by a panel which included:

  • Lauren Pomertantz, Scarsdale High School Youth Outreach Worker
  • Sharon Charles, Youth Counselor with Westchester Jewish Community Services
  • Detective Sherri Albano, Youth Officer of the of the Scarsdale Police Department
  • Amy Paulin, New York State Assemblywoman
  • Chris D'Silva, Leader of the SHS Chapter of Terminating Abusive Relationships


The panel was sponsored by The Scarsdale Coalition on Family Violence.

 

The abuse that occurs within a dating relationship takes on a very different form than the fictional scenario described above. "Abusive relationships... start slowly and gradually progress towards utter chaos," says Danielle.

Teen dating abuse will likely start out similar to any other relationship. It begins with perfection, laughter, and all of the exciting things that come with new love and new beginnings," says Danielle.

However, once the initial honeymoon phase starts to wear off "within a couple months," the initial stages of abuse begin. This abuse often takes discreet forms like jealousy. These types of seemingly harmless relational features are often deemed by society as a normal part of relationships, and thus do not receive the attention and concern they ought to warrant.

A common scenario in the initial stage of dating abuse is a boyfriend who becomes jealous when his girlfriend talks to another guy. This jealously eventually escalates to more serious stages where the boyfriend becomes possessive and controlling. For Danielle, her boyfriend was soon "telling her who to hang out with and what to wear." This brings up another warning sign of dating abuse: isolation. Danielle's boyfriend isolated her from her friends and family, claiming he was "trying to "save" her from everything else in her life" when in reality, he was the one "who was hurting her the most."

And while dating abuse may not start out as abrupt and violent as in the first scenario described, it can certainly escalate to that level if left to naturally progress. And for Danielle, that is exactly what happened. She found herself constantly "using make-up to cover her bruises" and "thinking of new ways to hide the different marks on her body."

Considering the initial argument that most people wouldn't willingly tolerate abuse from someone if they had the power to stop it, it would seem logical that anyone involved in a relationship like this would simply end it and cease the abuse. But when dating and "love" are involved, it becomes much more complex than that.

First off, it is often hard for someone to know when he or she is in an abusive relationship. "Abusers don't walk around with red X's on their forehead. They are regular people who are excellent at concealing their motives," says Danielle.
Often times, the abuse is well disguised as a mere product of genuine, passionate love. Or maybe the abused party is so infatuated with certain aspects (appearances, money, etc) of their partner that they are wiling to put up with "abuse" and consider it a minor detail. They rationalize warning signs like overt possessiveness, claiming, "It's just because he cares about me."

Many victims, like Danielle, remained attached to their abuser despite mistreatment. They endure the "endless promises that he didn't mean it, that it will never happen again." They don't want to end the relationship because they genuinely "believe it will change," that they "can make it change." They end up trapped "in a vicious cycle of dreamy, fleeting happiness."

Dating abuse is a very distinct and difficult type of abuse to prevent, mainly because the abused party is often unaware, or does not want to believe that she (90-95% of dating violence is perpetrated by men and done to women) is being abused. She will try to "justify the seemingly pointless arguments by saying it's still a relatively new relationship, and that trust issues are normal."

With courage, honesty and the support of her family, Danielle was able to escape her situation before it gravely damaged her life. She is "thankful she survived." Many teens however, have not been as fortunate. In recent events, two 16-year-old boys raped a young girl, and the girl was actually blamed by her peers and received no empathy from the national media. In other recent news, a Virginia lacrosse player was beaten to death by her boyfriend.

One in three teens is involved in an abusive relationship. According to Reverend Dr. John Miller of Hitchcock Presbyterian Church, "We need to create a community of respect for our children so that they understand what healthy relationships look like and feel like. At the same time parents need to be educated about the danger signs of unhealthy and dangerous relationships and given tools on how to discuss these sensitive issues with their children."

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