This is Real Stories - a blog by Let's Be Real members about their experiences with relationships, dating, and more. LBR is a movement by young people for young people about relationships.
He was sweet, the signs were hidden...I didn’t even know there were signs.
It began with sarcasm. We would tease each other and taunt each other. It was all in good fun. We called each other vile nicknames, mine was Leprosy Labia. It was our way of being endearing without being corny. I never felt like he would be a guy that would hurt me. He was sweet and liked me even after learning about my past, my mental illness, and the loss of my mother. I didn’t know that I was the exact person he would go for. We flirted for months before we started dating. He met my dad, sister, and grandma before we even started dating. I told him every secret I had ever held on to. He didn’t let it change what he thought of me. We talked about anything and everything. There was never an awkward silence between us because we were just comfortable around each other. We talked about our previous relationships, our goals for our lives, what we loved, how we felt about our family, we talked about absolutely everything. He called his ex-girlfriend crazy around me. I asked how she was crazy and he would never give me a straight answer. I kind of understood why she was “crazy” after I broke up with him, after he raped me. After I went “crazy.”
Abuse and manipulation are very hard to see when you’ve grown up thinking abuse is only when you are being beaten over and over and over again by someone close to you. I didn’t realize our relationship was as toxic as it was until I left. I didn’t leave the relationship because I understood what happened to me, I left because I didn’t understand it. When he assaulted me I did not have the correct vocabulary to even describe what happened to me. I questioned, Was I molested? Assaulted? Raped? I didn’t understand the difference between any of them, and I was afraid through my confusion. I searched for answers. How could this have happened while I was in a relationship? I thought domestic violence only existed in adult relationships. Any and all resources I found for those who have been victims of sexual assault inside of a relationship were for people who identified it as “domestic violence.” But I didn’t think I could say that was what happened; it only happened once and we were teenagers. We weren’t a married couple and he wasn’t beating me, so how could it be domestic violence?
While I was in junior high and high school I learned about the risks of drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex, and eating disorders, but never sexual assault or abusive relationships. Yet we KNOW these are major threats to students in K-12 schools. I did not have adequate resources to help me understand what happened to me or to notice the toxic signs in my relationship.
Since I was assaulted I have been hospitalized at a psychiatric facility twice, struggled with substance abuse, self-harmed, and fell from a straight A student to failing three classes and barely graduating high school. My life was nearly derailed because I ended up in a relationship I could have gotten out of, had I been able to see just how wrong it was. But instead, he hurt me and I still deal with it today. I still feel scared walking alone, even in the middle of the day surrounded by people. Because in a situation in which I should have been safe, I was still assaulted. I am not alone in these experiences. Sexual assault and abuse cause lasting harm that can affect someone for the rest of their life. But with adequate education, it can be avoided.
Relationships are new for young people, and we don’t talk about it enough. We have to figure out the difficult parts of a relationship on our own, through trial and error, like talking through issues with your partner and discussing what is & is not okay in your relationship. Young people are undereducated on the relationships they have already started and are at risk of being harmed without knowing. Domestic violence isn’t exclusive to older couples. In fact, more than half of women (69.5%) and men (53.6%) who have been physically or sexually abused or stalked by a dating partner, first experienced abuse between the ages of 11-24.1Young people fall victim to domestic violence as well, and we need to be taught about the warning signs for abuse and manipulation.
For the safety of our youth, there needs to be open discussions about domestic violence in relationships of all ages. Abuse happens younger than you think so learn the warning signs, talk to a friend or your kid about it and let's stop domestic violence before it starts.
Lauren is a contributing member of Let’s Be Real, a movement by young people for young people about relationships. Lauren is a sophomore at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa studying political science and pre-law. In her free time she likes to write, paint, surf, and explore Hawaiʻi with her friends. She believes in giving young people the information they need to live long, safe, and happy lives as well as ensuring young survivors of sexual violence are supported and believed. Lauren also sits on the advisory board for Stop Sexual Assault in Schools and believes all students have a right to an education free from violence and harassment.
1 Breiding, M.J., Chen J., & Black, M.C. (2014). Intimate Partner Violence in the United States — 2010. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.