Love doesn't equal control
By JOANNE RICHARD, QMI Agency
Bullying comes in all forms, even disguised as love.
And when love turns ugly, this danger often goes undetected.
For some teens, love hurts; for Vicki Crompton-Tetter's daughter, love killed.
At age 15, Jenny Crompton was brutally murdered by her boyfriend of one year. The 6-foot-tall, 200-lb. high school football player stabbed 110-lb. Jenny 63 times and left her to die in a pool of blood in her Iowa living room.
Crompton-Tetter couldn't save her sweet beauty from a horrible beast but she continues to save other girls from battered love by sharing the 25-year-old tragedy to bring attention to damaging dating relationships.
As students are deep into the school year and for many in exciting dating relationships, teens and parents need to be aware of the devastation of obsessive love and its disquieting and menacing escalation.
According to the Iowa resident, who's become a counsellor and advocate for teen dating violence education, "the instances of verbal abuse/emotional abuse/controlling behaviour has really risen, especially with the electronic age. Abusers can track and control a partner with iPhones, GPS systems, computers, etc. Teens talk of receiving hundreds of text messages per day -- or per hour -- from their partner, asking them where they are, what they are doing, etc."
It's a social crisis, overlooked and understated, says Crompton-Tetter, author of Saving Beauty From the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter From an Unhealthy Relationship (Little, Brown and Company). "So many teens are growing up believing that love equals control. But control is not normal, nor healthy."
Problem is often teens don't realize this. Popular stereotypical gender roles still have the male in control and dominant, the woman compliant and passive. Teens are also up against intense peer pressure to behave in certain ways, and having a boyfriend boosts status and worth.
According to experts, violence against women is generally considered an adult problem, yet teenagers are just as likely to be victims. U.S. stats indicate that one in three girls between the ages of 10 and 18 have been assaulted by a boyfriend, either physically, sexually, emotionally or verbally. One in four teens in a relationship say they have been called names, harassed or put down by their partner through texting and cellphones.
Reported prevalence rates of teen dating abuse vary widely in Canada, but rates between 25% to 40% are commonly reported.
A jealous ex-boyfriend was linked to a horrible murder-suicide that left four young people dead last month in Alberta. Derek Jensen, 22, brutally gunned down young female victim Tabitha Stepple, along with promising young ballplayers Mitch MacLean and Tanner Craswell on an Alberta highway as they were headed to the airport. Jensen then turned the gun on himself. The two broke up a few months earlier.
Young girls have little experience with love and relationships, so "ultra-possessiveness" feels like love.
"Teens in early relationships may not know what a relationship looks like and may interpret jealously on their partner's part as a sign of caring," says Debbie Lee, of futureswithoutviolence.org.
But relationships can quickly go from flirting to hurting -- first comes the psychological battering, exploitation and coercion, and then the physical pounding.
"Dating abuse as all abuse happens slowly. It begins with the boy isolating his girlfriend from friends, family. He may slam doors, threaten you, swear at you, tell you that you're ugly," says psychotherapist and author Mary Jo Rapini, based in Houston, Tex. "The abusive person tries to get you feeling so alone and worthless, and then the physical violence begins."
And, according to Rapini, abuse increases in stressful, economically trying times and the offenders are getting younger and younger.
Meanwhile, like most abused teens, Crompton-Tetter's daughter never turned to an adult for help. Victims often feel isolated, alone and ashamed.
According to experts, young girls often stay in unhealthy dating relationships because they're not aware they're in one or they fear the alternative of not having a boyfriend. Getting a man and keeping a man at any cost, including being controlled, is what many young girls are socialized to accept. Sadly, many also can only find their self-esteem through the eyes of a boyfriend that often times are empowered to destroy it, says Crompton-Tetter. "And they never know it's happening until it's too late."
Ultimately, dating violence leads to low self esteem, depression and anxiety and also increases your child's chances of suicide, says Rapini, author of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. "At no other time is your child's self image so vulnerable as in the tween and teen ages. Parents must protect their children."
She stresses that kids learn this behaviour from the adult mentors in their life. "My favourite saying of all time, 'Hurt people hurt people.'"
Don't create a Romeo and Juliet
According to expert Vicki Crompton-Tetter, when parents know dating abuse is going on, they naturally want to stop the relationship to protect their child, but this rarely works.
"The best defense is to talk to your child and point out what dangers you see, but also admit you cannot make them break up. Keep the line of communication open," says Crompton-Tetter, author of Saving Beauty from the Beast.
Let your child know you're there to help. Be sure to talk non-judgmentally about the relationship. Safety plans are sometimes useful.
If parents try to take a heavy hand, they just make things worse and push the two teens closer together.
"Teens tell me all the time their parents' reactions made the situation worse," she says, adding that "in the U.S. there is a national movement to get mandatory training in all the schools."
To date, 14 states have signed legislation mandating all grades 7 to 12 students must receive some form of teen dating abuse education.
Debbie Lee, of FuturesWithoutViolence.org, says we need to let our teens know what to expect out of a healthy relationship, as well as indicators of a possessive, unhealthy or abusive one. "Parents can use teen relevant news articles, movies and songs as a way to discuss these issues before they occur."
A recent triple murder suicide in Alberta is being linked to a broken romance -- Derek Jensen, 21, allegedly killed three people, including his ex-girlfriend Tabitha Stepple, 21, along a dark highway. Their often-volatile relationship had ended a few months ago, leaving Jensen heartbroken.
Red flags of an abusive relationship:
- Courtesy of Futureswithoutviolence.org
Warning signs your teen daughter may be in an abusive relationship:
Hell on earth
Losing a child is a never-ending journey for Vicki Crompton-Tetter. Many times she did not think she'd survive the grief of her daughter's death, much less find joy again.
"I was so angry in my grief, which pushed me to speak out. The speaking out probably saved me, because I know telling her story has been cathartic for me."
She admits she was emotionally absent for many years as she struggled with grief. "I would say the devastation comes from all the thoughts of 'what might have been' and the knowledge I can't do anything to bring her back.
"I realize our life is quite different from what it would have been but I don't let myself think about that very often, about what she might have become, or about children she might have had, etc. That is still too painful. I concentrate on the grandchildren I do have."
Unbelievably, Crompton has forgiven her daughter's murderer, Mark Smith, and has even visited him in prison.
"Many do not understand this. I believe it is part of my healing. We have forgiven him and I speak with him several times a year by phone or letter."
She hated him for eight years and then she requested a visit with him. "That first visit was an angry one for me; I poured out my hatred and grief. But I began to see him in a different light, a young kid who had made a terrible, impulsive mistake and was now behind bars for life. I saw his living conditions. I felt compassion. And with the help of our Christian faith, we forgave him."
But that doesn't get him out of prison: He has asked for a commutation of his sentence and Crompton asked the parole board that he serve at least 30 years before it be considered.
"He wants us to advocate for him, but I told him that I cannot. The best I can do is not fight the decision of the parole board. Forgiving him took the burden of hatred and bitterness away from me, which really freed me," she adds.