Domestic Violence: Trapped in a cycle of abuse

Kayla Aldridge

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Cruelty hard to escape in the struggle of self-doubt

It’s been months since anonymous student, “Anna”, dated her abusive boyfriend, but not a day goes by when she doesn’t think about him.

“It got worse and worse, but I kept it a secret because I wanted him out of my life as soon as possible,” Anna said. “I didn’t want people knowing because I didn’t want to get him in trouble. I still loved him. It was a weird feeling.”

Anna is a victim of domestic violence, the number one violent crime reported to the police in Marin County, according to the Center for Domestic Peace.

Domestic violence is an issue that has made national headlines in recent months due to the growing number of scandals reported within the National Football League.

However, the reach of domestic violence extends beyond the football field. Whether the abuse is between young adults in relationships or parents and children within the home, domestic violence is a prevalent issue among teenagers.

One in four high school girls has been a victim of physical or sexual abuse, and in a single year, nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner, according to the Center for Domestic Peace.

A recent Bark survey showed that 21.3 percent of students know someone who has been purposefully hit, slapped, or otherwise abused by someone they were in an intimate relationship with.

Anna is one of many teens who have faced the reality of being trapped in an abusive relationship. According to Anna, some of the more serious incidents of abuse left marks on her body.

It was horrifying,” Anna said. “You don’t think about it at the time as physical abuse until you’re away from the relationship. You realize, ‘that wasn’t right’ and that isn’t what a boyfriend should do. In the moment it just seemed normal.”

Anna said she felt as though she was never entitled to her own opinion, and that she would have to apologize in every argument. She said that her boyfriend’s tendency to get jealous led to severe consequences later in their relationship.

“One day he saw me texting another guy and he [started] screaming at me,” Anna said. “He was screaming, ‘You’re a whore, you’re disgusting, I hate you.’”

Anna said this type of verbal abuse occurred frequently and made her feel as if she wasn’t good enough for anyone. As Anna looked to end her relationship, however, she found herself trapped in a repetitive cycle.

“I didn’t want to get hurt and I was so vulnerable. I didn’t have anyone, so everything he said I took personally,” Anna said. “You’d get so fed up with it that you’d want to get back together so it would all just stop and be okay.”

Domestic violence does not only occur between romantic partners. A UC Berkeley study in conjunction with the California Department of Social Services showed that 23 percent of children under the age of 18 reported physical child abuse between 2013 and 2014.

This is the type of violence that anonymous senior “Emily” has been experiencing since she was in elementary school. After years of physical abuse from her mother, Emily entered the eighth grade with a self-destructive mindset.

“I was at a really low point in my life,” Emily said. “I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to be in this world anymore. If my mom doesn’t even like me the way that I am, then whoever will?’”

Emily unintentionally exposed her experiences with child abuse and her thoughts about self-harm through a school poetry assignment.

“I wrote about how my mom physically does stuff to me, so they called her in,” Emily said. “She was mad that I wrote about that and that I told everyone she does that to me. But after that, she backed off more.”

In the four years since this incident, Emily said she has been physically abused by her mother four times. Although she and her mom still have verbal disagreements, she said the amount of abuse has decreased dramatically.

Community outreach helps victims break free

“I don’t think it stopped because I was suicidal. I think it stopped because I told someone,” Emily said.

Emily believes her mother stopped abusing her because school authorities found out, and her mom knew they had the capability of involving the police.

In retrospect, Emily admitted that she hadn’t meant to expose what her mother had done to her. She hadn’t realized that when a teacher becomes aware of any sort of domestic violence or the possibility of a student wanting to self harm, they have to report it.

Emily said she had trouble opening up to her friends about the abuse because of the large differences she saw between her mom and her friends’ parents.

“I felt like if I told someone, they wouldn’t understand me and my situation that I was going through,” Emily said. “I thought that no one really cared, so I would never tell anyone anything. If they didn’t care why would I tell them?”

Unlike the way Emily accidentally revealed what had happened to her,  Anna eventually went directly to her parents when the abuse became more serious. Her parents then brought the problem to the school, and the school notified the police, who later arrested Anna’s ex boyfriend.

“I was going to file a restraining order but it would’ve made him more mad,” Anna said. “He didn’t listen to the rules, so filing one wouldn’t stop him.”

Although victims face a variety of obstacles as they work to get help and speak out about their abuse, they do not have to be alone in this endeavor.  The county provides services to help teens who are dealing with or have dealt domestic violence and child abuse, according to Scott McKenna, Central Marin Police School Resource Officer.

“It’s an unfortunate reality that not everybody is as well taken care of and loved as everybody else. Sometimes we have to step in and make sure that happens for them,” McKenna said.

Sabrina Boyce, Youth Services Manager at the Center for Domestic Peace, said the Center for Domestic Peace offers a variety of services to help young people through domestic violence.

“We partner with Huckleberry Youth Programs in downtown San Rafael. They have a teen clinic every Tuesday where young people can come in and get reproductive and sexual health services or just a check up, but we’re also there so we do a lot screening around dating abuse,” Boyce said.

The Center for Domestic Peace can assist teenagers with getting a restraining order or filing a police report if the situation calls for it. In addition, the organization provides education surrounding the warning signs of dating abuse, as well as what it means to be in a healthy relationship.

Boyce described domestic violence as an isolating experience and said that the Center for Domestic Peace tries to break this isolation by helping victims understand that the abuse they’ve experienced isn’t their fault, and they’re not alone.

Although Redwood counselor Tami Wall hasn’t personally received many reports of domestic violence, she acknowledged the issue’s presence among the student body.

“It is definitely an issue,” Wall said. “I just don’t know if it’s reported as much as it happens. I don’t know if there’s a fear of disclosing that at school, or if [students] share that with therapists or somebody else [instead].”