This online sidebar accompanies the Teaching Tolerance article "Possession Obsession."
Anna Sanchez (not her real name), 19, wishes her school had taught that control can signal abuse rather than love. At age 13, she thought she’d fallen in love with a spirited, wonderful 16-year-old boy. But soon after they started dating, he lost his temper when he saw her at school in a low-cut blouse. He said she looked like a whore and ripped the blouse right down the middle. He insisted on driving her home from school, and that she stop spending time with friends.
Then the boy began to hit her, leaving ugly bruise marks, if he saw her conversing with boys. “He was always very remorseful afterward and begged me to forgive him.”
She decided to break up with her boyfriend after a violent encounter at his apartment. He was pushing her to have sex; she wanted to remain a virgin. “Suddenly, he smacked me so hard I fell down. He dragged me into the shower by my hair, turned on the hot water, threw me into the tub and raped me,” says Sanchez. The boy also slashed her thighs with a razor, leaving scars that are still visible six years later, she says.
Sanchez’s parents were separated. Her mother was working two jobs to support the girl and a 2-year-old brother. Sanchez told her beleaguered mom nothing. When the young teenager tried to break up with her violent boyfriend, he said he’d kill her mother and little brother. “I knew he was in a position to do it because he was a gang member and sold drugs,” she says.
Control is often the hallmark of teen dating abuse, and fear is the deterrent to reporting violent partners, even if the surface details of young people’s lives look different.
Laura Hampikian was thrilled when a boy she met on MySpace wanted an exclusive relationship after they’d known each other for only a month. “My parents were going through a divorce, and I wanted to prove I could stick with someone,” she recalls.
Her emotionally volatile boyfriend felt unloved at home and soon was texting or phoning 14-year-old Laura all day and into the night. “I’d hide the phone under the covers at 3 a.m. so my parents wouldn’t see.”
Laura’s boyfriend pressured her to stop hanging out with friends, so she soon had none, and to go much further sexually than she wanted. The Boise, Idaho, teen, feeling stifled and isolated, tried several times to break up with the boy but always relented when he threatened to commit suicide. “I confided in nobody. I didn’t recognize it as abuse,” she says now, at age 19.
After a miserable year and a half of feeling as if this teenage boy’s life was in her hands, she did end the relationship — online. He wrote back that he would kill himself (but did not).
Anna Sanchez was less fortunate. Her ordeal continued for three years. She survived the incident of rape and severe violence. But her injuries just got worse and worse. They continued through the early stages of an accidental pregnancy that ended in abortion. Of course, she had to involve her mom eventually. And she wound up attending four different high schools in efforts to get away. “He stalked me for years.”
Eventually, she had moved so many times that the violent boy lost track of her. Now a college student and happily married, she volunteers at an agency that presents workshops in high schools on teen dating violence.
“Doing this has given me a chance to heal,” says Sanchez. “By getting my story out and helping others understand abuse, hopefully it will give them the confidence to leave before they’re seriously hurt or killed.”