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Teen Dating Violence Awareness

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --

Marcus was a star running back at his high school. At age 16, he was bright and popular and dreamed of college until a spring day in March. The popular athlete stabbed his girlfriend to death in a school hallway after she tried to break up with him.

What had gone wrong? How did a boy with such pent-up rage escape the attention of parents and adults? As it turns out, Marcus had a history of teen dating violence a few years before, but no one took notice or knew it could escalate to this level.

His girlfriend, Anna, said everything about Marcus appealed to her.

"He was very, very sweet to me,” Anna said. “We talked until 3 a.m. every school night.”

Anna was a drama student and her athletic boyfriend poured on the affection with flowers, love notes and constant adoration. Then the sweet relationship took a turn. She said Marcus began telling her what to do, what to wear and demanding that she not attract other boys' attention. Marcus was Anna’s first boyfriend, and she said she didn't know if this was unusual behavior. Anna's mother soon noticed her bubbly daughter was becoming withdrawn and less confident.

"I watched her go from being this vibrant beautiful girl to a person who never wanted to put on makeup, who worried about everything that she wore to not being able to be herself," Anna’s mother said.

The controlling behavior Anna was experiencing is a sign that teen dating violence, especially emotional abuse, may be occurring. This tragic story plays out daily in schools across America as teen dating violence increases in frequency and intensity. If this issue is not recognized or addressed, it has the potential to increase in severity and continue into adult relationships.

“Teen relationships often set the stage for adult relationships,” said Glenn Garcia, Family Advocacy Outreach manager. “What children learn as teenagers will often continue into adulthood. Adolescence is the best time to educate teens and parents about healthy relationships and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of relationship violence.”

To raise awareness of this issue, February has been designated as National Teen Dating Violence and Awareness Month. At F. E. Warren, the Family Advocacy Program, in conjunction with youth programs, is providing a presentation on healthy dating characteristics at the Teen Center Feb. 17 at 2 p.m. Also, a series of displays will be placed in key locations on base throughout the month.

“It is critical for us as a community to pay more attention to this issue,” Garcia stated. “Many of the relationship violence cases seen within the Sexual Assault Response Program can easily be traced to teenage views of relationships.”

A study by the Department of Justice revealed that nearly one half of adult sex offenders reported committing their first sexual assault prior to the age of 18. If teens are learning about relationships from music, television and video games, they are not going to have the best views on what relationships need in order to be healthy and successful.

“Parents should talk to their teens about relationships and realistic expectations,” Garcia said. “Everyone should also know the risk factors and warning signs of teen dating violence. If we educate ourselves and are willing to get involved, we can put a stop to this issue before a teenager, like Anna, is injured or killed.”   

For more information on teen violence, contact Family Advocacy at 773-4228 or the Sexual Assault Prevention Program at 773-3482.