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Perils of teen dating: Valley teens discuss effects of abuse, how to help

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February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. This is the fourth and final part of a special series from KTAR News 92.3 FM about the perils of teen dating. Read part one here, part two here and part three here.

PHOENIX – Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts are just a few of the many potential effects teens in abusive relationships face.

Abby Parker, 18, knows exactly what that’s like.

“It’s still there. It’s still a trauma,” she said.

She was in an abusive relationship when she was 14 years old.

The abuse started almost immediately. Her ex-boyfriend would get mad if she didn’t answer his calls or texts. He didn’t want her talking to anyone else, and he made up stories to keep her around, including having cancer.

Parker said she had enough and broke up with him. But he refused to let her go, and he started threatening to rape and kill her.

It’s now been nearly five years since they met. Parker said he continues to harass her despite the orders of protection she renews every year to try to keep him away.

Her experience has changed the way she lives her life.

“I’m just very careful,” she said. “If I’m walking by myself anywhere, I always look behind me.”

At work, she has a security guard walk her to her car. She also has a hard time trusting people, leading her to only have a small group of close friends and making it difficult to date again.

Lauren Reed, a social work professor at Arizona State University, said these are all common consequences of an abusive relationship.

“Teens who experience dating violence are also at risk to experience more abuse across their lifespan in other relationships,” she said.

Reed has been studying teen dating violence for about a decade. She said there are many complex factors that lead teens to be abusive in a relationship.

“The ultimate motivation is power and control over their partner,” she said.

She said teens use physical, sexual and psychological tactics against their partners to keep that power and control.

That’s something Reed and others are trying to change through The Thriving Relationships Lab. It’s a team at ASU working with schools and organizations to prevent dating and sexual abuse among teens as well to promote healthy relationships.

Reed said she recommends anyone who knows a teen in an abusive relationships to “believe them” and listen to what they have to say.

“Communicate that it’s not their fault and that you’re concerned about their safety,” she said.

Parker said her advice for teens is to not be afraid to tell someone about the abuse.

“I was afraid for the longest time that my mom would be mad or my dad would be mad,” she said. “But when I finally told them, it was like I’m finally going to get the help I need.”

She added teens who are scared for their safety should call police.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel agreed. She said teens should also document the abuse, including taking screenshots of text messages, emails and social media posts.

“Write things down so that you have a record of it,” she said.

Adel said this evidence will help if teens need to file an order of protection, which forbids abusers from having any contact with victims. Law enforcement can also make arrests and confiscate firearms if an order is approved.

She said teens can also request an injunction against harassment, which requires teens to prove they are being harassed.

“But you do need to come to court with that evidence, so it’s important to write everything down and have proof of the harassment,” she said.

If you’re a teen in an abusive relationship or know one who is, you can call or text bloom365 at 888-606-HOPE (4673) or Teen Lifeline at 602-248-TEEN (8336). You can also call the National Teen Dating Violence Hotline at 866-331-9474.

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