“He was a sweet, nice kid”
That’s how *Brian’s father described his 19 year old son who was stabbed and killed by his girlfriend on April 6 in the apartment they shared where Brian was attending school. A typical case of domestic abuse under not so typical circumstances.
Brian and his girlfriend were young. Too young. He was a well built and seemingly able to defend himself against a female. Both were educated and in touch with their their families. As far as I know, neither came from abusive backgrounds.
But, Brian did exhibit some concern over his relationship. She was possessive, and they argued. Was this unusual? Only people close to Brian, and those who knew him best could have known if this relationship seemed out of the ordinary or dangerous. And even then, at 19 most would have stayed out of it letting Brian work it out.
So, could Brian have been saved? Can anyone in these situations?
Well, it seems to me that with 3 million men and 4 million women experiencing physical assault by their partners (according to Safe Horizon) we owe it to others like Brian to try.
I believe that by watching for signs in our kids and teens we can address certain victim characteristics early on – maybe saving them from entering risky relationships, or empowering them to leave dangerous ones, when they are adults.
I’m talking about using early intervention as prevention.
Consider the more typical Domestic Abuse scenarios:
Large sunglasses on a cloudy day covering up a black eye.
Bruises that can’t be explained.
A spouse that doesn’t “allow” friends over and monitors all calls.
These and many other telltale signs push most friends, family, and even good Samaritans into action. They don’t hesitate, and are applauded when they intervene and encourage the suspected victim to exit the relationship. It follows that it would be even better and safer to avoid entering those relationships at all.
How can we do it?
First we need to identify potential victims. It’s easy to look at victims of childhood abuse and understand why they could end up adult victims. It is the more subtle qualities we need to pay attention to. Qualities such as
- A belief that you can “fix someone”.
- A belief you don’t deserve any better.
- Believing that any relationship is better than none.
- Making excuses for a friend’s behavior.
- Internalizing frustration and acting out by self-abuse such as cutting.
Before you say these don’t describe anyone you know, see if the any of the following sound familiar:
A 10-year-old boy continually befriends the “mean girls.” Even though they are mean to him, he remains their pre-adolescent boy toy. When asked why he is friends with one or more of these girls, he explains that he knows that can be mean, but he feels special when they pay attention to him, and he thinks they will change. He thinks he can help them. He gets a lot of praise for being so nice.
A 15-year-old girl who always has a boyfriend. She seems to need one to help her feel good about herself. The thought of being without a boyfriend is far worse than the thought of having a bad one. She seems so happy when she is in a relationship you just stay out of it.
A 17-year-old girl with very low self-esteem accepts the comments and bullying that are thrown at her every day. She believes she doesn’t deserve better and believes this her role in any relationship. She becomes uncommunicative. You tell yourself it’ll be better when she gets out of high school or meets a nice guy.
I bet at least one rings a bell.
If it does, don’t hold your breath and hope it will pass. Don’t write it off as immaturity or naiveté. And, whatever you do, don’t believe that stepping in is anything else than an act of love.
I’m say pay attention and act. Keep your eyes and ears open and step in early and often. Get advice from professionals and teach your kids what healthy relationships are before they stop listening. And, if you think they aren’t listening, keep talking anyway. Something is getting in. Don’t give up, and don’t ever stop. You could be preventing them from more than just heartache or growing pains. You could be saving their life.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the family