The abuse that Marissa Presley endured by a much older boyfriend at the age of 14 resulted in truancy, difficulty focusing at school, and extensive health and mental health consequences. When she confided to a well-meaning school counselor, the disastrous advice she received was, “Hang in there.” Now Marissa manages dating abuse prevention programs for Laura’s House in Orange County. Sadly, she has heard stories similar to her own from far too many teens who have been abused in their dating relationships.
After growing up witnessing and experiencing abuse in my home, I thought being controlled by a partner was to be expected. The abuse I endured by a much older boyfriend at the age of 14 resulted in truancy, difficulty focusing at school, depression, and eating disorders. My boyfriend hit me and called me crude names. He isolated me from my family and friends. He told me, “If you love me, you’ll skip school to be with me.”
Though fear and shame drove me to try to hide what was happening, eventually I sought help from a school counselor. The age difference between my boyfriend and I should have been reason enough to look further into what was happening.
Though she was kind and well-meaning, the advice my school counselor gave me
was, “Hang in there.” She didn’t have the training or education to know what to
My teachers and other adults at school did not seem to notice my bruises, heavy make-up, and sometimes disheveled clothes. If they did notice, they didn’t do anything. Eventually I became pregnant at the age of 15. I also attempted suicide.
Years later, I was able to leave the relationship. But I continued to enter into relationships with abusive men, in which the physical abuse escalated. This is often the pattern with teen victims of dating abuse. Teen victims are at higher risk for becoming victims again later in life. And teen perpetrators are also more likely to abuse their partners as adults.
Eventually, I was able to break the cycle. And I have found empowerment and purpose in educating youth and adults to stop dating abuse. More than just educating them about what abuse is – my work is about supporting young people in learning to have safe and healthy relationships.
Sadly, I have heard stories similar to my own from far too many teens who have been abused in their relationships. When will it stop?
In California, schools have Safety Plans that address child
abuse and peer violence. And more and more schools are adopting policies to
address bullying. In this day and age, it doesn’t make any sense that most
schools don’t have a policy on dating abuse.
No other teen – whether they are a victim, a perpetrator, or a bystander – should reach out for help at school, only to be rejected by adults who are unaware of the dangers of dating abuse, and unable or unwilling to help.
The time for change is now.