On Wednesday afternoon, New Directions Domestic Abuse Services Center gave a presentation at South Decatur High School (SDHS) as part of the Center’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness educational series.
Carole Burr, councilor and victim’s advocate, along with Victim’s Advocate Brandy Taylor, covered a number of teen-dating-related issues during the 40-minute session.
The women used a slide presentation and Youtube video to provide both basic information and more in-depth overviews of specific cases.
Burr told the audience of ninth-to-twelfth graders, “Many of you are in dating relationships, and while we’re not saying you’re in an abusive relationship, you may be. We want to educate you about dating violence and increase your awareness on the warning signs that tell you something may be wrong.”
According to Burr’s presentation, 9.3 percent of teen females and 10.3 percent of teen males report being abused by dating partners.
“During our presentation today,” Burr said in addressing stereotypes regarding male and female roles in abusive relationships, “please keep in mind that, while males are typically thought of as being the abuser and females the victims, females can also abuse and males can also be the victims.”
Moreover, she continued, about 7 percent of all murder victims per year are young women killed by a boyfriend, while 1,138 teen girls died at the hands of dating partners in 2012.
Dating abuse, she stressed, is about power and control and involves one partner in a romantic relationship engaging in a “pattern of behaviors” to control the other person.
“It’s unusual,” she added, “that an abuser will exhibit abusive behaviors at the beginning of the relationship.”
Instead, abusers commonly work to “sweep the victim off her feet,” Burr said. Protestations of deep love aren’t uncommon, and abusers will talk about “love at first sight,” and being “soul mates” with the victim.
The abuser’s intentions with such flattery, Burr warned, is to cloud the victim’s judgment, gain trust and confidence, and make it easier to manipulate and establish control.
Burr also related the case of Heather Norris, an Indianapolis woman murdered in 2007 by her estranged boyfriend — Joshua Bean. Norris, Burr explained, had been in a longstanding, physically-abusive relationship with Bean. She would continually break-up with him and continually go back after he promised never to hit her again.
“Eventually,” Burr said, “after a beating that left her in the hospital, Heather broke up for good.”
Bean, however, was determined that if he couldn’t have Norris, no one could, and stabbed her to death, burning the body and dismembering it with a chainsaw.
“Out of this horrific crime,” Burr added, “came ‘Heather’s Law,’ which requires Indiana public schools to provide education on dating violence for grades 6 through 12.”
Burr also related the case of Seath Jackson, a 15-year-old Florida teen who, in 2011, was ambushed and brutally murdered by an ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend and a group of other friends.
Besides all of the warning signs and symptoms of physical abuse, Burr also said that “it’s important to note that emotional and psychological abuse is always present (in abusive) relationships as well.”
Burr and Taylor’s presentation also included information about teen rape.
Burr warned that rapists usually aren’t shadowy strangers who jump out of the dark. Rather, 68 percent of young rape victims know their attacker. Moreover, she added, 60 percent of rapes occur in the home of the victim, a friend or a relative.
She added that rape isn’t necessarily a violent act, and that both males and females can be raped.
“One in five teens say they’ve experienced sexual assault by a dating partner,” Burr said. “A rape occurs every two minutes in the U.S., and 44 percent of victims are under 18.”
The two women also devoted part of their presentation to teenage “sexting” — the practice of transmitting sexually explicit content over a cell phone or other electronic means.
In illustration, Burr presented a video about the case of Phillip Alpert, a Florida man who distributed nude photos of his 16-year-old girlfriend when he was 17.
Now, as a 20-something young man, Alpert’s been convicted of creating and distributing child pornography. He’s thus been placed on the Florida sex-offender registry and won’t be removed until he’s 43.
“I can’t get a job,” he says in the video, “because nobody wants to hire a sex offender.”
He lives in an apartment by himself, but would prefer to live with one of his parents due to finances. He can’t, however, because his status as a sex offender precludes living too close to schools and other child-related establishments.
After the video, Burr warned the audience to think carefully before sending anything that they wouldn’t want the entire world — including teachers, parents and others — to see.
“After you hit that ‘send’ button,” she said, “you lose all control of where those pictures end up.”
She further warned that, as in Florida, Indiana law hasn’t been updated to allow for sexting, meaning that high-school-age offenders can be charged with distributing, creating and maintaining copies of child pornography.
In a brief phone interview Thursday afternoon, SDHS Principal Jim Jameson told the Daily News that presentations like the Wednesday’s are extremely important in helping guide the future paths of SDHS students.
“Educating about abusive teen dating relationships isn’t a new concept,” he said, “but it’s something that’s recently been brought to the forefront.”
Although Wednesday’s presentation fulfilled the school’s yearly requirements under Heather’s Law, Jameson stressed that SDHS would’ve welcomed New Directions regardless of the law.
“I think educating our kids about this problem is critical to their development into productive adults after they leave high school,” he said.
In fact, the principal added, moving forward, he’d like to devote the entire month of February to educating SDHS students about dating violence.
For more information about domestic abuse or dating violence, call New Directions at 662-8822 or visit www.mynewdirections.org or www.heathersvoice.net.
Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.