“As a parent you don’t know what to do,” says Kate, a workspace designer.“Here was this child who had always been bright; suddenly she doesn’t have the self-esteem to care about herself, her grades or her future.” She tried talking to Sarah, who angrily rejected her suggestion that Joe was a bad influence; she also sent Sarah to a therapist, who suggested Kate and Mark try to understand why they disapproved of their daughter’s choices.According to a Harvard study of 4,163 public high school girls in 2001, nearly 1 in 5 reported physical or sexual abuse in a relationship.
“As a parent you don’t know what to do,” says Kate, a workspace designer.
“I just wanted to get away.” Just four months earlier, Sarah thought she’d found the perfect boyfriend, ready with corsages, compliments and movie dates.
Quickly, though, sweet talk gave way to insults and demands and, finally, physical abuse. 12, 2005, kicking incident, Sarah, a willowy strawberry blonde with a spray of freckles across her cheeks, stood in line at the family division of the Santa Clara County, Calif., court clerk’s office, waiting to pick up a copy of a restraining order.
Initially flattered, Sarah gradually grew uneasy with Joe’s possessiveness.
“He never really straight out said he didn’t like my friends, but he made it clear I didn’t need anyone else.
A partygoer later recounted the incident to police in a statement: “He kicked her as hard as he could with his right leg/foot. He [witness] said she did this for close to three hours.” When Sarah regained consciousness, Joe was standing nearby, still drinking.
Getting to her feet, she made her way to a bathroom, locked herself in and called a male crew team member.If a friend called, he’d be like, ‘Why do you want to go out with them?'” When she did find time for pals, there was hell to pay: “My phone would ring and my friends would say, ‘Why don’t you ignore it?Getting hurt was the furthest thing from Sarah’s mind when she met Joe at a back-to-school dance in September 2004, the start of her sophomore year. “I was crazy about him and about being in a new fun relationship,” she says. Joe, knowing Sarah left before dawn for crew practice—she eventually became team captain—began sending her text messages at 4 a.m.“They would say things like, ‘I know you are at practice right now, but I just wanted to be the first one to say hi,'” Sarah says.They were at a party, and Joe (not his real name), the cute football player she’d been dating, had kicked her, hard, propelling her into a wall, where she had hit her head and blacked out.“I woke up and he was hovering over me,” Sarah, now 18, recalls.’ And I would say, ‘I can’t ignore it—I’ll get in trouble.’ If I was hanging around with anyone else, he’d get mad and yell at me on the phone.” Her friends knew only that something had changed.“I was seeing Sarah less and less,” recalls Jeremy Carlson, 18.“It became kind of a joke—that she was too busy with school and crew.” Sarah kept her doubts to herself. “I think it has to do with being in one of the first relationships of your life. It made me feel loved.” But her parents, Kate and Mark, a computer software salesman, were worried.You don’t really know where to draw the line.” And then there was Joe himself, who followed up his outbursts with fervent apologies and tokens of love, usually bouquets of roses. Sarah, who had maintained a B average, started getting C’s and D’s, and her friends weren’t coming by anymore.