Expert: Domestic violence among teenage couples is prevalent

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — District Attorney General Charme Allen revealed Wednesday the officer-involved shooting death of an Austin-East Magnet High School student began with a domestic incident April 12.

In fact, investigators discovered two incidents, both at the school, between Anthony Thompson Jr. and his 17-year-old girlfriend. The incidents resulted in the girlfriend leaving school and telling her mother who then called 911. Officers later responded to the school with the intention of arresting Thompson on a domestic assault charge.

Domestic violence among teenage couples is a prevalent problem, according to Knoxville Family Justice Center Executive Director Kathryn Ellis. While there are a few challenges, unique to incidents involving minors, many teenage victims have similar stories to adults.

For starters, Ellis explained, its often difficult for them to make a break from an abusive relationship.

“Most of the time the victim will leave the relationship multiple times before they truly leave. That is in large part because of the abuse they’ve been under,” Ellis said.

One added obstacle facing teenagers is a desire to fit in, she explained.

“When there is a relationship that’s building and one of them starts to show particular care to the other, they want to keep that,” Ellis said. “So then when it turns towards more violent behavior it’s difficult for the victim to separate.”

She also noted abuse is often emotional or mental, and becomes violent when an abuser loses control.

It’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for cues and behavior, because abuse isn’t always obvious and often doesn’t take place in front of others.

“The majority of what is going on happens with nobody seeing it happen. Most people are not going to punch somebody else in the hallway while other people are watching. They’re going to do it when they’re in a room with nobody else,” she said.

The FJC has eight onside partners that help victims get any assistance he or she may need. They can provide teenage victims with safety planning, orders of protection, resources such as mobile phone access and transportation. They also assist with legal aid and have law enforcement officers in-house to investigate abuse.

Van Wolfe, executive director for SafeSpace, says one in five teenagers will endure an abusive dating relationship. Of those victims, she said, 80% will stay with their abuser. It’s why she believes it’s important for children to know what healthy relationships looks like and how to spot controlling tactics.

She gave some examples in which a partner deciding what a victim can wear, who their friends can be, how they’re going to act, and demands to see their phone or have social media account access.

“That may or may not look like control to a 16-year-old girl,” Wolfe said. “That may look like oh, he just loves me so much.”

She echoed Ellis’ point about relationships turning violent, when an abuser loses control.

SafeSpace is a nonprofit that provides shelter, crisis intervention, legal aid, resource referrals and counseling, has offered a violence prevention education program for students, grades 7-12 for 20 years. It includes specific examples to students of controlling behavior, and gives students a chance to anonymously report abuse, and offers parents a way to address their concerns.

Ellis said a victim is often being controlled by someone, so if you observe behavior change in your friend, colleague, or family member, she recommends you talk to the person, without their abuser.

“Tell them that you’re there, that you love them, that you care about them, that you want to help them. They’ve been told no one else cares, so hearing it from you could help,” Ellis said.

She also touched on developments Wednesday, leading up to the police presence at the high school last week, and subsequently, the death of a 17-year-old student.

“A parent making that phone call is protecting their child,” Ellis said. “You can’t think that if you make that phone call things are going to happen the way they happened in this situation.

“Several things happened that lead to the outcome, but calling and saying my daughter is at risk is not something that she should feel bad about because she was doing what she thought was best for her daughter.”

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