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How To Recognize Signs Of Teen Dating Violence

(Zorah Olivia/Flickr)

According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 10 high school students reports being hit, slapped or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend in the past year. (Zorah Olivia/Flickr)

BOSTON — A Wayland man could spend the rest of his life in prison after murdering his former high school girlfriend.

Nathaniel Fujita was sentenced to life without parole following his first-degree murder conviction in the death of Lauren Astley in July 2011.

All first-degree murder cases are automatically appealed.

Fujita’s case has sent shockwaves through the community and has brought new attention to domestic and dating violence.

To talk about teen dating violence, Morning Edition spoke with Sally Fogerty, director of the Children’s Safety Network, a federally funded, Waltham-based agency that works on maternal and child health as well as injury and violence prevention.

Bob Oaks: As I understand it, the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2011 almost 10 percent of high school students report being hit, slapped or physically hurt by their partner in the previous year. That number seems huge to me. Give us a picture of what some teens are experiencing in their dating relationships. 

Sally Fogerty: It’s important to realize this is both males and females, so it’s not just females being hit by males. What we know is that’s sort of the tip of the iceberg; that’s sort of talking about the physical side of it. We also know that there is a lot of verbal and emotional abuse going on.

What should teens look for to identify whether or not they’re in an unhealthy relationship? And hopefully they can identify that before it actually turns violent?

If your partner gets angry when you talk, if you feel you’re being bossed around, if you really feel that something’s going on that just doesn’t feel right in that relationship.

And what do teens do about that? It’s so easy for us to say, “Well, just break up with the guy or break up with the girl.” But it’s a lot harder to do in real life because of the pressures on kids, so what should they do?

The first thing they should do is find an adult they feel comfortable talking to and talk to them about the relationship and what they feel isn’t quite right. Some people will say that even sort of writing down what’s going on helps you to begin to understand it. It begins to help you see that this isn’t quite the relationship that you might want to be in.

People are also beginning to talk about bystanders. If you’re watching a relationship between two of your friends and it just feels it’s not right, there’s something going on, talk about it.

The parents in the Nathaniel Fujita/Lauren Astley case were just caught completely unaware by the situation in their relationship. What should parents be looking for as identifiers that their kids may be in trouble in their relationships?

I think sometimes we may not even think something’s not right within the relationships that our children are having. So one is being aware in watching. Talk to your teen about it.

If you don’t feel your teen is going to talk to you, you don’t have that kind of relationship or, I know with my kids, you don’t always know if they’re going to come to you. See if there’s another adult who can talk with your teen about it. But watching, being aware, keeping our eyes open.

For more information, see “Teen Dating Violence As A Public Health Issue” (PDF), a guide by the Children’s Safety Network.

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