Teens Break Free From Dating Abuse

At the beginning, Katie, Laura, Carrie and Shaina were just teenage girls in love.

"He would just always tell me how beautiful I was and how wonderful I was and how lucky he was to have me and I just was on cloud nine. I felt great," said Katie, now 19.

But eventually all of these girls found their boyfriends turning controlling and abusive.

"He told me what to do, what to wear, how to act, what to say, what am I doing next, what am I cooking, what am I eating. Everything," Laura said. "I pretty much stopped talking to my parents for the most part. I stopped talking to my friends. It was just me and him alone all the time."

Carrie said her boyfriend "wrote notes that listed what I should do for the day. … He wouldn't let me smile in class. He felt like I was, it was a way of me flirting with boys. … I just had no control of my own life."

Some, like Shaina, found themselves the victims of violence.

"He grabbed me by the ponytail and he threw me on the bed and he held me down, screaming at me in my face," she said.

They are among many young women who are verbally, physically and sexually abused by their boyfriends. According to the Justice Department, 16- to 24-year-old women are the victims of relationship abuse more than any other age group.

Getting Unstuck

"I was stuck," Carrie said. "I didn't have any friends. I didn't have anybody to help me. … It was very difficult."

Feeling coerced and trapped, most girls in abusive relationships see no way out. For Carrie, the turning point that finally enabled her to escape was a shameful request made by her manipulative boyfriend -- he asked her to sleep with an older guy while he watched.

"At that point, I was just totally overwrought by being this other person and I was just not doing that," she said. "It was just the breaking point."

Carrie made the break and reached out to her old friends, many of whom shared similar horror stories. The girls took the courageous step of leaving their violent boyfriends and then formed Teens Experiencing Abusive Relationships. They now travel the country, talking to groups about dating violence.

Through their Web site, they reach dozens of kids every day. Their efforts have helped not only those in abusive relationships, but also the friends who must watch them suffer.

Chinonye -- a founding member of TEAR -- was never a victim of abuse, but she had friends who were, and she knew how crucial it was for girls to have friends and family who recognized the signs of abuse and took the problem seriously.

"I think a lot of people portray it as these are young girls or these are young boys and this is just a young relationship, young love and it will end," Chinonye said. "But a lot of this has potential to go on forever and turn into domestic violence."

Carrie says she wants other girls to know they are not alone. "There's people out there who understand them, who know what they're going through. There's resources."

The Signs

"Good Morning America" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy said parents and friends who suspect a loved one is being abused should look for these signs:

Isolation from friends and family.

A change in behavior or clothing.

A cycle of fighting followed by making up with gifts.

If parents suspect their daughter is in an abusive relationship, Murphy said, the most important thing for them to do is stress that they're on her side. If she won't talk to you, turn to her friends and encourage her to talk to someone she trusts.

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