Young women form anti-abuse group
Age-group is most vulnerable to relationship violence
By Deborah Feyerick
The TEAR founders, clockwise from bottom left: Chinonye Chukunta, Carrie Speiser, Katie Falco, Shaina Weisbrot
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EAST BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (CNN) -- So your teenage daughter has a boyfriend. Is it love? Look closely, because young girls are increasingly becoming victims of abuse, starting as early as junior high school.
Meeting three of these girls, the first thing you think is: They're so young, yet the lessons they've learned are so grown-up. Each believed she was in love, but each now says there was a dark side -- that within months they began to suffer verbal, emotional and physical abuse by their teen boyfriends.
Shaina Weisbrot says she was 13 when she got into her first bad relationship. Some of the things her boyfriend would do: "Pulling my hair, shoving me, shaking me, covering my mouth with his hands, screaming at me in my face, driving so fast -- like a hundred miles an hour -- until I was crying and telling him to stop."
She says it was a relationship based on fear: "I was taught to fear him."
Her friend, Carrie Speiser, 14 at the time, says her boyfriend was "controlling what I wore, who I spoke to, what I was doing. The phone calls became so constant that they were checking up on me."
It then escalated from control to manipulation to physical abuse, she says. On one occasion, her boyfriend tried choking her with a T-shirt.
The girls say the relationships were so intense, they thought "this must be love."
They admit they went along with it, isolating themselves from their family and friends. And if parents think it's just a phase that young teens go through, the statistics tell a different story.
The Justice Department says girls between the ages of 16 and 24 are more likely than any other age-group to become victims of relationship abuse -- almost triple the national average.
One in five high school girls will become the victim of dating violence, according to a 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Young men can also become the victims of relationship abuse, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Parents say they can feel powerless to help. Carrie's mother, Susan Schankler, tried to limit the amount of time her daughter spent with her boyfriend.
The strange thing is, she says, "Carrie at the time was getting straight A's ... I couldn't say, 'Well I'm blaming your bad grades on the boyfriend.' "
The mother of another teenager, Katie Falco, says she was hurt but not surprised by her daughter's choice.
"I raised my daughter to have a good heart," says Lora Speiser. "I feel that's what made her more vulnerable and more susceptible to someone. She didn't understand that people really were trying to hurt her."
The three girls, along with a friend who was not abused, co-founded a group called TEAR -- Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. Though they're now in college, the girls travel to high schools in New Jersey and teach others how to avoid dating violence. (TEAR)
Congress has declared this week National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Week.
"Our research has consistently demonstrated that teens exposed to or victimized by abuse are at increased risk for delinquency," says Robert Flores, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in a statement on the agency's Web site. (OJJDP)
Sen. Mike Crapo sponsored the Senate resolution proclaiming the observance.
"This deadly cycle must be stopped -- for the sake of our kids, grandkids and our communities," the Idaho Republican says on the Web site.
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