New York Times

December 2, 2008, 12:15 pm

Talking About Teen Dating Abuse

By Lisa Belkin

Ann and Chris Burke knew nothing about dating violence when their daughter, Lindsay, took up with a man Ann calls “possessive from the start,” five years ago. “He was calling constantly, he always had to know where she was,” Ann says. The Burkes were relieved when Lindsay ended the relationship after two years. A few weeks later, she was murdered by her jealous ex when she went back to the apartment they’d shared to retrieve some stuffed animals. She was 23 years old.

The Burkes have come to learn a lot about dating violence. They know that 24 percent of teens know at least one student who has been the victim of dating abuse. And that fewer than 25 percent of teens have discussed the subject of dating violence with their parents. And that one-quarter of teenage girls in a relationship report verbal abuse from their boyfriends. And that nearly one in five teenage girls who have been in a relationship have been threatened with violence if they break things off.

Today is “It’s Time to Talk Day,” supported, as it has been for the past five years, by Liz Claiborne, Inc. (the statistics above are from a 2005 survey sponsored by Claiborne), and the Burkes will be spending the day talking. They are both high-school teachers in Rhode Island (Ann teaches health, Chris teaches culinary arts), and they believe the warning signs of abuse in dating should be taught to teens the same way they are taught about sex and drugs.

If she had learned that abusers “tell you that your family doesn’t really love you and your friends don’t really like you,” then Lindsay might have been less willing to allow her boyfriend to shut her family and friends out, Ann says. If she had known “that she needed a safety plan when she left him, because when a victim leaves the relationship is when they are at the greatest risk of being harmed,” then Ann believes Lindsay might still be alive today.

There is a law in Rhode Island now, the Lindsay Ann Burke Act, or Lindsay’s Law. You never want to live to see a law named after your child. Passed in June of 2007, the law requires school districts in the state to have a dating violence policy and to include dating violence prevention as part of the health curriculum in grades 7 through 12.

The curriculum used in a majority of Rhode Island Schools (and in 3,500 schools nationwide) is “Love is Not Abuse,” a creation of the Education Development Center. The Burke’s goal is to have it taught in every middle and high school in the country, and this morning they teamed with Claiborne to launch a group called MADE, Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse.

Teens are reluctant to talk to their parents about this subject, the logic goes, and they turn to their peers instead. So what parents can do to help is make sure those peers are educated and informed, and the goal of MADE is to expand the availability of information to high school students by requiring the subject be a required part of the curriculum in every state.

You can learn more about MADE, here.

You can visit the Love Is Not Abuse Web site, here.

You can contribute to the Lindsay Ann Burke Memorial Fund, here.

And teens who can’t talk to their parents can visit or call the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline (1-866-331-9474, or TTY 1-866-331-8453.)

Because it’s time to talk.