Forty-seven percent of teens said they had been victimized personally by controlling behaviors from a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to a study by Liz Claiborne Inc. and the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
Nearly one in three teens in the study reported sexual or physical abuse or threats.
And while the abuse can happen in person, this digitally savvy generation has discovered the power to communicate instantly also can be used to abuse. Twenty-four percent reported that they had been victimized with technology by a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the study.
Parents of abuse victims plan to bring light to the frightening statistics at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today. Testimony from teens is scheduled for the hearing, too.
Parents like Bill and Michele Mitchell of Columbia, Md., hope the testimony will put a face on the statistics and help save others from a fate similar to the one their daughter suffered.
Though the Mitchells will not testify at the hearing, they said they will appear at the press conference announcing the study's results today.
Stories of Abuse
Just three weeks after the Mitchells celebrated their daughter Kristin's graduation from Saint Joseph's University in 2005, the 21-year-old was murdered.
"The last time that I saw her alive was the day I met the guy that did it," Bill Mitchell said.
Kristin Mitchell's parents said they were unaware that their daughter was in a relationship with a possessive and controlling boyfriend.
"You know, there's some issues, but we had no idea anything like this," Michele Mitchell said.
The violence ended on June 3, 2005, when Kristin Mitchell died after being brutally attacked.
She was stabbed 55 times. Her parents never saw it coming.
"You find out what happened and then the next day you're in the funeral home making arrangements. You're picking out caskets," Michele Mitchell said.
A Survivor's Tale
But Kristin Mitchell's story is not unique.
Like Kristin Mitchell, 19-year-old Monique Betty was pretty and popular. She also was in an abusive relationship.
"I was a cheerleader. And he was a jock. And everyone liked him. We had lots of friends," she said.
What began as an apparently picture-perfect relationship soon "turned into a nightmare," Betty said.
The Pocatello, Idaho, native began dating her boyfriend in the seventh grade and the abuse started small. Betty's boyfriend wanted to know her whereabouts at all times, would belittle her and control who she saw.
He pointed out imperfections, made fun of her clothes and Betty even would have to talk to him at sleepovers because he didn't trust her.
"I was so alone. Like, he started rumors about me and, like, I lost all my friends," Betty said.
Things escalated to physical violence, with him pushing and grabbing her, she said.
But unlike Kristin Mitchell, Betty is a domestic abuse survivor because one day she collapsed in her father's arms and pleaded for help.
"I was actually in denial that it was happening," said Betty's father, Tom Betty.
What Betty did is uncommon, because according to the study, two out of three teenagers don't confide in their parents.
But his daughter's nightmare became the family's nightmare, too, when their daughter's ex-boyfriend began stalking her.
"You totally feel powerless," said Betty's mother, Michelle Betty.
Monique Betty said her experience inspired her to become an anti-domestic violence advocate. She said she believes she can use her personal experience to help other teens.
"I know that it's difficult. You don't want to leave. You're scared to leave. But there's hope," Betty said. "There's people that will surround you and love you and help you get out of it."
The Bettys and the Mitchells want to see schools add programs that warn young people about teen dating abuse. Currently, only three states — Texas, Maryland and Rhode Island — have prevention programs as a part of the required curriculum.
The Rhode Island law is called the Lindsay Ann Burke Act.
Burke, whose mother is scheduled to testify before the congressional committee today, was murdered in 2005 after a two-year struggle in an abusive relationship.
Enacted in 2007, the law named after the 23-year-old requires all school districts in the state to have a dating violence policy to address incidents at school. In addition, it requires annual dating violence education for students between the seventh and 12th grades.
Help for Abuse Victims and Their Families
There are steps that parents can take if they suspect their teenager is experiencing dating abuse.
First, create opportunities to talk to your teen. Experts recommend driving your kids to school one morning, instead of having them take the bus, or showing up for their activities outside of school. It may be during moments like these that your teen is more willing to open up.
Educate yourself and your child. Parents should be able to read the warning signs, such as if their teenager suddenly stops hanging out with her friends or suddenly changes the way he dresses, so they will be able to intervene and protect them.
Contact the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline. Parents can turn to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline and Web sites like Love Is Not Abuse and Give Respect for information on what the warning signs are and how to help a teenager who might be in trouble.