From the Shadows: A Teen Dating Violence Tragedy

I’ve been reflecting recently on how much I learn from and rely on the Internet. It never ceases to amaze me that a seemingly pressing question of the moment can be answered in seconds. “Googling” might be my favorite hobby.

But like all good things, it has its downsides, too.

Under Estimated: Teen Dating Violence

Downside number one: In this world of 24-hour news and budget battles, many important stories don’t make headlines but surface only in the likes of a tweet.

Take the heartbreaking story of Lauren Astley, one I ran across on Twitter last night.

Lauren was an 18-year-old Wayland, Massachusetts high school student whose body was found in a marsh last week. Her former boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita, was charged with her murder in what prosecutors say was a teen dating violence incident. Lauren had recently broken up with Nathaniel after a three-year relationship.

Courtesy of the Boston Globe: Lauren Astley

The story has rocked the Boston area and, despite the tragedy, the Globe reports that many surveyed teens think that they are “too young” to worry about violence. Their relationships are thought to be “not serious enough” to incite such acts. Many also reported that available advice from health teachers, parents or other adults was sporadic, perhaps because they also are not aware of the issue’s prevalence.

The Numbers 

But the statistics shed some light on the apparently confused issue. Teen domestic violence falls under the broader category of dating abuse which includes physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse. A Centers for Disease Control survey revealed in 2009 that 9.8 percent of teens reported being purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a significant other in the previous year.

Other estimates, such as that from the Love is Respect campaign, put that number closer to 20 percent.

Enter Internet (and technology) downside number two: access to Facebook and cell phones opens new avenues of harassment and compounds the problem in ways with which adults are unfamiliar. According to one Love is Respect survey, some teens reported receiving as many as 10, 20 or 30 texts an hour from their partner asking where they are and who they’re with.

What it Shouldn’t Take

The affects of teen dating violence are likely underestimated. Like all domestic or gender-based violence, it resides on a spectrum and many see extreme cases such as this one as the anomaly. Indeed they may be just that; but that doesn’t mean countless others aren’t suffering in similar ways.

More importantly, it shouldn’t take a tragedy like the death of Lauren’s Astley to shine light on an issue that is threatening a significant percentage of teenagers in this country.

Groups to Follow

Important, national attention is coming from organizations like Love is Respect which is creating innovative ways to keep pace with the issue’s many layers. Take its “Teen Power Control Wheel,” an interactive tool for teachers and adults that includes video on issues such as mental control, peer pressure and intimidation, among others.

Locally in the Boston area, the Boston Public Health Commission started its Start Strong initiative which recruits older teenagers to teach healthy relationship skills to 11 through 14 year olds. This is an important strategy as these teens know the realities of social media and text message harassment.

It is easy for those of us in the bloggosphere to click away at our keypads and criticize the many ways in which society fails its own and the Internet distracts from the “more important.” Guilty though I am of both of these, it breaks my heart to hear of a life lost too young to such a preventable crime; and I cannot stay quiet on the issue. So please send this along. You never know who you might help.

Please continue to check back on 4WomenWorldwide for more stories that “fall through the cracks.”

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