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You May Be Surprised Where Violence Pays a Call
August 18, 2011
You May Be Surprised Where Violence Pays a Call

Reposted with permission by Judy Bolton-Fasman of the Jewish Advocate

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to learn about a new initiative from Journey to Safety called “Make it (Y)our Business.” A program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Journey to Safety is devoted to preventing domestic violence and helping its victims.

We were an eclectic group: professionals in the field, concerned women and survivors of domestic abuse. The meeting was on the heels of the tragic story of Lauren Astley and Nate Fujita – the Wayland teens whose relationship ended in murder. It’s not only a “there but for the grace of G-d” story for teens and their parents, it’s a story that is very much our business. A story, in varying degrees, that is our story as well.

We began the meeting with a standard meet and greet: name, profession and our personal connection to the issue. As we went around the room, a few women identified themselves as survivors of domestic violence. I was all set to tick off the reasons for my participation: mother, parenting columnist and concerned woman. But when I introduced myself the first thing that I said was that I had been the victim of domestic abuse. Although I surprised myself, saying it out loud in that particular setting felt right, felt safe and felt important to share.

I’ve said many times that I want to be like my 17-year-old daughter when I finally grow up. What that really means is that I want to bring up my daughter and son the way I would have liked to have been raised. Please understand: My parents were good people. They did the best they could for my sister, brother and me. But they were haunted by their own demons and consequently so were their children. I will only tell you that there was a lot of screaming, histrionics and, once, the pulsating red light of a police cruiser lighting up my bedroom.

When you grow up in such a volatile environment, you make decisions, especially when you’re young, that can replicate the only life you’ve known thus far. When I was 16, I escaped into a relationship with a boy who was as emotionally fragile as I was. We went out far too long – I was in my mid-20s when we finally broke up. For some of that time, we genuinely loved each other. But then there were the darker times when he once kicked me, slammed me against a wall and told me I’d never amount to anything. Toward the end of our relationship, he said, “I don’t know why I can’t treat you the way you deserve to be treated.”

I tried to leave him my sophomore year of college. The day after we broke up on the phone, college security found me in class and told me my grandfather was ill. I needed to call home immediately. My world spun off its axis. My grandfather had died the year before and the number that the guard gave me was my boyfriend’s.

Anna and her friends are actively dating. Some of them have already gone through upsetting break-ups. I listen to the stories and laugh and cry with these girls, some of whom I’ve known since they were 3. They think I’m a caring, interested mom. And I am. But make no mistake about it, their well-being is my business. If I think that something is seriously awry – and the range can include anything from cutting to anorexia to loss of interest in things they had always loved – I will give Anna one chance to approach a friend to tell that friend to get an adult involved immediately. If that doesn’t work, I don’t care how embarrassing it is for my children, I will call a parent.

Naturally, a recent conference called Breakup Summit 2.0 caught my eye. I went down to Northeastern University to learn that the Boston Public Health Commission was behind a national initiative called Start Strong to help teens maintain, and if necessary, leave a relationship in safe, healthy ways. The mission is straightforward – BPHC and Start Strong are committed to fostering healthy relationships as preventive measures against teen dating violence and abuse.

The conference focused on how digital technologies aid and abet relationship violence. Posting an embarrassing picture or forwarding a nasty text can be more viral than the common cold. “Face It Don’t Facebook” was the conference slogan that appeared on buttons given out at the summit’s registration. Taking care of personal business on Facebook or Twitter can devastate a person.

A recent blog posting by Journey to Safety’s director Elizabeth Schön Vainer cited that:

  • One in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

  • Nearly one in 10 high school students has been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
In the case of Nate Fujita, accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend Lauren Astley, there were clear warning signs. Fujita had had several public confrontations with friends and acquaintances in the weeks leading up to Astley’s death. The night of the murder he was said to have bombarded Astley with text messages until she agreed to meet him after work.

I think that’s the 21st century version of sending a college security guard to scare your girlfriend into staying with you.
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