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Utah teens share stories of dating violence

Published: Monday, Feb. 14 2011 11:48 p.m. MST

Bonita, of La Verkin, a survivor of a violent dating relationship, shared her story at a news conference held by the Utah Department of Health and Utah Dating Violence Task Force at Murray High School on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

MURRAY — On a day devoted to expressions of love, the Utah Health Department Monday released disturbing statistics about teen dating violence.

A couple of young women who are survivors shared their stories in hopes of helping others. They call themselves survivors, not victims.

Nationally, one in four teens is in an abusive relationship. In Utah, it's closer to one in 10, but equal to the fear these young people have of someone close to them, is the fear of talking about it.

The booklet, "Teen Dating Violence, It Happens in Utah" tells the stories of six young women, ages 12 to 19, who were raped or beaten by young men they were dating or knew.

"It seems only fitting to release this booklet on Valentine's Day, a day that many choose to celebrate the love that they have for a significant other," said Katie McMinn with the Utah Department of Health's Violence and Injury Prevention Program. "Unfortunately, for too many of our young people, this love is often fraught with fear, humiliation and violence."

Sara, who is 16 and lives in Sandy, was 14 when she said she became involved with a 17-year-old boy who repeatedly forced her to have sex with him. She reported it and he was charged with six counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. It resulted in counseling and a written apology.

But Sara said the teen wrote about her on MySpace and she received text messages from him and his friends telling her to kill herself. She says she had to change schools because other students sided with him.

"I hope that other girls don't have to go through this," Sara said. "If I hadn't told my cousin what happened, I would probably still be with him or someone like him. Through this process, the things that have helped me were the support of my family and knowing I always had somebody to talk to, my counselor and understanding teachers.

"While none of this has been easy, I am glad that I told someone and that I pressed charges, because I am in a better place in my life now," she said. "I want people to be aware of it and know that it's real and people really do go through it and I want there to be more awareness of what goes on."

Bonita was 19 when she said a young man in her church group followed her to a park and raped her at knife point.

"To explain how an act of violence has affected me for the past 15 years is a very daunting task. I was afraid to talk to my family and friends. I was scared that they would reject me and that they would not believe me. But I was wrong," she said. They helped guide me to healing."

Bonita said she hopes speaking out will help give other victims of sexual assault courage to take the next step.

"That's what kick-started me, is finding someone who had been through it and I saw that courage and I wanted that," she said. "It gave me the courage to step forward and work on my healing process."

According to Utah's 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 8.2 percent of female high school students and 5.8 percent of male students say they were forced to have sex; 11 percent of ninth- through 12th-graders were hit, slapped or physically hurt while dating.

Since many have to learn what a healthy dating relationship is, students at Murray High School created a team to help break the silence that some are suffering through.

"Violence is a choice and it is used to control another person. No one deserves this. No one deserves to be in an abusive relationship," said Jessica Colwell, of Murray High's Peer Leadership Team. "I see the problem in my school, I see it in my community, I see this around me everywhere. I have friends who have been abused. ... I feel like the more we talk about it, the more likely it is that we can fix this problem."

Nubia Pena, a victim advocate with the Unified Police Department, said officers see abusive relationships all the time.

"Although some may be receiving flowers and candy and some might be receiving teddy bears on this very special occasion, others, unfortunately will continue to be in abusive relationships where they will get black eyes and bruises, busted noses and arms and end up, instead of a nice evening spent at a restaurant, dressing up for their partner, at the emergency room, trying to get their injuries looked at," she said.

"We are going to recognize February on a national level as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month because it is happening and it is happening to those we love most dearly."

For help, toll free hotlines are open 24 hours a day. Call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line at 800-897-LINK or the Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 888-421-1100.

e-mail: cmikita@desnews.com

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