The Liz Claiborne Initiative

In 2005 I became a member of the Liz Claiborne Teen Task Force.  I was one of four girls selected to help launch the Love Is Respect national teen dating abuse helpline and Love Is Not Abuse Curriculum.

The helpline is truly amazing and perfect for teens.  It is the only helpline of its kind; teens will answer the phone to speak with those teens that call in.  This is truly unique, and so helpful to teenage victims of abuse.  Having someone on the other end of the phone that is close in age, and knows what you’re going through in high school, makes such a difference.  Teens are also able to communicate via instant messages on the website, if uncomfortable with talking to someone over the phone.

Call anytime; the Teen Dating Violence Helpline 1 (866) 331-9474,

Or start a live chat with trained peer advocates at http://www.loveisrespect.org

The curriculum (Love Is Not Abuse) is a teen dating violence and abuse prevention curriculum.  The curriculum has four lessons: 1) what is dating abuse, 2) the pattern of abuse in dating violence, 3) digital abuse in dating violence, and 4) ending teen dating abuse.  Lesson three was just added to the curriculum and is a very important lesson for teens.  With the technology available currently, it is completely possible to always know where someone is.  My grandparents tell me stories of how, back in the day, there were no phones; what a different world to live in.  There are both positives and negatives to the constant communication, but when it comes to an abusive relationship, the negatives far outweigh any positives.

You can request a free copy of the curriculum at http://www.loveisnotabuse.com

“In this increasingly digitized world, it is imperative that we provide our youth with the information and resources to stay safe,” said Jane Randel, Vice President of Corporate Communications, Liz Claiborne Inc. “By adding a section on digital dating abuse to the Love Is Not Abuse curriculum, and by partnering with CDC to launch an online training course for teachers and educators, we can ensure that teens across the country will be taught about all aspects of dating violence and abuse.”

The launch began with “It’s Time to Talk Day,” and we all gathered in the Liz Claiborne Showroom in New York to talk about teen dating violence.  This year, December 8 will mark the seventh annual “It’s Time to Talk Day.” If you have a story or know someone that does, encourage them to participate if ready; teen dating violence happens a lot more often than all of us believe and the statistics prove it.

Some of the current statistics from Break The Cycle are:

  • 1 in 3 teens will experience some form of abuse in a relationship, two-thirds of them will never report it to anyone
  • Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate partner violence—nearly triple the overall average.

Liz Claiborne Inc. also launched a Coalition in 2008 – MADE: Moms And Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse.  The Coalition of parents, teachers etc. is advocating for teen dating abuse education in every middle school and high school in the country.

Made was inspired by parents of teen dating abuse victims, (including my mother!)  These parents want to do their part and try to make sure no one else’s child becomes a victim.

So far thousands of parents, teachers, teens and others have joined the growing movement to get teen dating abuse education taught in every middle school and high school in the country.

Help make this goal a reality.  You can become a MADE Coalition member by signing the petition and downloading resources to contact your schools and legislators. www.loveisnotabuse.com/made

Relationship Violence. Break the Silence. Be Part of the Solution.
You Can Make a Difference, You Can Save Lives.
-Sarah

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Don’t Force It!

If there is one piece of advice I can tell friends of victims, it is NOT to force the victim to end the relationship.  Your trying to push a break up will only push you further away… I promise.

When I was in an abusive relationship, that boy became a huge part of my life.  I had friends that did not understand that- and, especially after the first physical incident, tried to push me to break up with him.  Going back to the cycle of violence, it is very difficult to get out of this kind of relationship.  One friend even went as far as to say she would not speak with me unless I broke up with him… this friend and I are no longer as close as we used to be.

Friends and family members do not understand the difficulty.  It seems so simple to just end the relationship, but it’s not.  My BEST piece of advice for you is to just support your friend or family member in what you believe to be an unhealthy situation.  Let them know that you are there for them, and that you will listen without judging.  Let the victim talk to you and speak out loud, and vent about what’s going on in the relationship.

Here’s an example:

Last year, there was a girl on my rowing team that was clearly in a controlling relationship.  Her boyfriend was always calling and texting her, and would never let her go out with friends (especially if there were going to be boys there).  One weekend we traveled to Washington for a race, and a few members of the team were planning to meet at the hotel hot tub and relax a little before the race the next day.  When her boyfriend found out there were going to be boys in the hot tub, he freaked out and started screaming at her, and made her feel terrible.  The night consisted of her crying and trying to get him to calm down; she never made it to the hot tub.

Some of the other girls on our team went up to her, once she finally hung up the phone, and told her how ridiculous it was that she would put up with that sort of behavior.  He was always making her feel bad, and she needed to stand up for herself.  They tried to push her to break up with him, and get her to realize what they saw.

I made sure to take a step back, and not get involved at that point.  She pushed those girls away, and wouldn’t talk to them for the rest of the weekend.  When she was alone I confronted her and told her that in high school I was in an abusive relationship.  I told her I would love to share my story with her.  I didn’t talk about what was going on in her relationship; I kept it about me.

Over the summer they broke up, and I was the first person to hear about it.  She told me that she really appreciated me not trying to push her to do something that she wasn’t ready for.  Hearing my story helped her realize that she did deserve better, and soon after she started dating a boy who treated her right, like a princess.

They are still together and happier than ever.

I cannot stress enough that pushing someone to do something they are not ready for is not a good idea.  Support your friend or family member, and let him or her know you are there… when he or she wants to talk.

I hate to compare it to something so juvenile, but if you push someone to ride a bike before they are ready, and they fall over it will only take at least twice as long for them to get back on.  No one wants to be pushed to do something they are not ready for, so keep that in mind.

You can always give them the helpline number, so they can use it whenever they are ready.

The Teen Dating Violence Helpline 1 (866) 331-9474

Relationship Violence. Break the Silence. Be Part of the Solution.
You Can Make a Difference, You Can Save Lives.
-Sarah

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The Vicious Cycle

The ‘cycle of violence’ is a terrible period to endure while in a relationship.  It makes leaving the relationship even harder.

Many people ask; why does the abused party stay in the relationship? Why not stand up and leave? For married couples, the reasons range from limited resources to not wanting to leave the children behind.

When it comes to teen relationships, those reasons do not exist, but it is often still just as hard to leave.  When I was in my relationship, the flowers and “I’m sorry’s” and “I love you’s” made me feel better, and I always believed him when he said it wouldn’t happen again.

Honeymoon Period – Everything is perfect.  The “I’m sorry’s” are constant, apologies and promises to never to happen again.  It sounds too good to be true; and usually is.

Tension Building – The “walking on egg shells” feeling.  You know something is going to happen soon, and are extra careful not to set your partner off.  Knowing it is coming soon, you try to make sure everything is right and hopefully not start a fight.

Serious Battering Incident- Any type of abuse can occur, whether emotional or physical. Both types of abuse happen more often than you realize.  Sometimes the violence can be so hurtful that staying in the relationship is just absurd, but then there are the “I’m sorry’s” (see Honeymoon Period).

If you or someone you know is stuck in the cycle,

The Teen Dating Violence Helpline 1 (866) 331-9474

Relationship Violence. Break the Silence. Be Part of the Solution.
You Can Make a Difference, You Can Save Lives.
-Sarah

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Warning Signs of an Abusive Relationship

If I had known earlier what I know now about the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, I would have been spared a lot of pain, humiliation and heartache. I am going to talk about some of the warning signs that I hopefully would have noticed, if this was a topic that was more widely discussed. If you or someone you know might be in an abusive relationship, think about these warning signs and if they sound familiar. This is not a complete list, but these signs are good to pay attention to.

Warning #1 – Isolation.

Are you giving up things that used to be important to you? Have you lost some of your friendships or interests you used to enjoy? Are you more isolated than you were before this relationship existed?

  • When I was in the abusive relationship I gave up more than I realized. I was a member of the local youth symphony, which had practice after school. He told me he wanted to spend more time with me, and with his football and my symphony practice there was added strain in our relationship. He never told me I had to quit, but I knew there would be a fight, and I would do anything to avoid the fights.
  • I also became an unreliable member of my crew team during our relationship. Crew practice began at 4:45 a.m. and he always wanted to be the first person to talk to me every day. He would call me at 4 knowing I would be up, and would always try and convince me to come over to his house and skip practice. Most of the time I would just talk to him and then go to practice, but when there had been a recent rough patch between us and I felt a fight could break out if I said no, I would often go over to his house and skip practice.

Warning #2 – Jealousy.

If your partner is jealous of you talking to people, it could be a red flag. A little jealousy can be healthy, but if you are being told who you can and cannot hang out with, it is a bad sign.

  • I have grown up as a tomboy and naturally have many guy friends; I am just more comfortable with guys. He did not like this very much, especially the fact that I was still close with my ex boyfriend in a platonic way. Early on in my relationship with him, he got very angry with me whenever I hung out with my ex.
  • I am Jewish and have my “Jew crew.” I grew up with a group of kids at my temple that did just about everything together. In our high school years we would hang out, playing poker or going out to dinner. He did not like that I had a group of friends that he was not a part of, and would always need to include himself in whatever we were doing. He wouldn’t be a part of the group; he just needed to be there, acting like he didn’t trusted me.

Warning #3 – Making Excuses.
Are you apologizing for your partner’s behavior? Are you defending him/her and making excuses? Are you getting more gifts than normal, and hiding the real reason you are getting them?

  • Right off the bat, my mother didn’t like him. She is very traditional and didn’t like the way he showed no respect for my parents. He would come over for dinner and after the meal all of us would get up to clear our dishes, and he would sit at the table and wait for someone to do them for him. He felt that he was a guest and didn’t need to help with the dishes. Little things like this bothered her, and I would always find a reason to calm her down and try to make her like him.
  • I know now that the excessive flowers were a problem. After every fight, he would buy me a bouquet of roses and apologize. The fights were about many different things, but always ended with flowers. I loved flowers, and receiving them made me feel so special. I felt that it was more than just saying “I’m sorry,” but that he really meant it this time that he would change. My parents would constantly ask why I got another bouquet, and I was too embarrassed to tell them the truth and said he just surprised me with them or they were from someone else. They assumed something happened, but didn’t want to push it.

Warning #4 – Dramatic changes.
Has your weight, appearance or academic performance changed a lot? You might not notice it at first, but think about any significant changes. These changes could be a sign of depression.

  • When you are in a physically abusive relationship, sometimes marks remain behind and extra clothing is used to cover it up. This is one of the ways your appearance can change. If you have a bruise on your arm or leg and are changing the way you dress to hide something, you are in an unhealthy relationship. You deserve better, and should not allow yourself to be hurt and feel the need to cover anything up.
  • Sometimes he wanted me to cut class with him. There was no important reason; he just wanted to go hang out or do something besides school, especially on a day where we wouldn’t have time to see each other after school. Looking back, I see that my grades suffered, and I never should have skipped school.

Warning #5 Unexplained Injuries.
Do you have injuries you can’t explain to people? Are you giving excuses for the injuries that don’t make sense?

  • There were only two physical incidents in our relationship and both were public. I never had any physical injuries I couldn’t explain. I knew others that did, and I knew the stories made no sense. I knew they were embarrassed to tell the truth but didn’t know what to say. It is important to be there for the victim and not push the subject. Let the victim know you are there when he or she is ready to talk.

Warning #6 – Constant Communication.
Are you always on the phone with your partner? Are you always answering calls, emails or text messages? Does it seem like your partner always has to know where you are, what you’re doing and who you’re with?

  • When we were together he always had to know what I was doing. He would always know where I was, and who I was with. When I was at Temple for the Wednesday night teen program, he always had to talk to me during break, to assure himself I wasn’t talking to anyone else. If I left home, I needed to tell him so he would know where I was going. At first it didn’t seem as ridiculous as it does now. It seemed cute that he always wanted to know where I was, but it was a control mechanism and not okay, and I know that now.

Warning #7 – Partner’s Background.
Is your partner possibly being abused by his or her parents? Are your partner’s parents in an abusive relationship? If your partner comes from an abusive home, it could be a very bad warning sign.

  • I never saw or heard anything to lead me to know any details about my boyfriend’s parents’ relationship, but I know of cases where this was evident.

These are some of the warning signs I wish I would have known about before getting into my relationship. If any of these warning signs are true to your relationship get help.

The Teen Dating Violence Helpline 1 (866) 331-9474

Relationship Violence. Break the Silence. Be Part of the Solution.
You Can Make a Difference, You Can Save Lives.
-Sarah

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Let’s Work Together!

Dr Phil,

My intention for writing this blog is to be invited to speak about teen dating violence on your show.

When I was 15 years old I was in an abusive relationship.  I finally got the strength to end the relationship after two bruised ribs and a concussion.  An overview of ‘My Story’ can be found at the top of the blog.

About two weeks ago I heard you on the Ryan Seacrest morning show speaking about your new campaign; “End the Silence on Domestic Violence.”

I was so delighted to hear your commitment to speak about domestic violence.

I would like to highlight, in my opinion, that you are excluding one huge demographic.

After hearing your interview and subsequently reviewing your website, I can see your focus is on domestic violence between married couples and not on teenage dating violence.

As you state on your website, abuse is three times more likely to occur with young women ages 16 to 24.  That is a huge statistic that needs more attention.

Teenage relationships are typically entered into with little guidance.

Technology has enabled abusers to stay in constant contact.

I will use this blog to show statistics, warning signs, give examples, talk about the cycle of violence and provide lots of other important information to help and do my part to “End the Silence on Domestic Violence.”

I have spent six years speaking out in order to educate teens about teenage dating violence.  I have spoken at schools, prisons, conferences and informal gatherings, and my story has been featured on news shows and in magazines.

I hope over the course of this blog I am able to help point out reasons why teen dating violence needs to be a larger part of your “End the Silence on Domestic Violence” campaign.  I hope to reach teens currently in unhealthy relationships and viewers who might know someone in an unhealthy relationship, and also teach teens about the warning signs.

Relationship Violence. Break the Silence. Be Part of the Solution.
You Can Make a Difference, You Can Save Lives.
-Sarah

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