Lifestyle

Teen domestic violence: Why rural America should be worried

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Ashley Doolittle “just wanted to be friends” when she broke up with her boyfriend, Tanner Flores, in June 2016. But after dating more than a year, that break-up didn’t sit well with the then 18-year-old Flores. In fact, that break-up cost Doolittle her life.

The victim of teenage dating violence, or, more specifically, break-up violence, Doolittle was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend Flores. Today, Flores is serving life imprisonment plus 32 years for the first-degree murder and kidnapping of the Berthoud rodeo queen.

What happened to Doolittle upheaved this small Northern community in Colorado and sent shock waves through the state’s 4-H, FFA, and equine associations that knew her so well, but the events leading up to her death are all too common in teenage dating.

Click here to find out more about the legacy Ashley Doolittle left on the Thompson FFA chapter.

“Leaving an abusive relationship is often the most dangerous time,” said Amy Carter, a director of a domestic abuse program in South Dakota. “When an abuser realizes they are losing control of their person, they sometimes do desperate or dangerous things.”

According to Carter, 1 in 10 adolescents will be purposefully physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. When you break that statistic down further, 1 in 3 girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse.

“Teen relationships involve very intense feelings and when manipulation, power, and control are present, they are not always identified as unhealthy or abusive,” Carter said.

Carter said addressing dating or domestic violence in rural communities has its challenges due to lack of resources, people usually know everyone, and the stigma that things like this just don’t happen in rural areas.

“It’s harder to seek help or feel safe that what a person shares will be kept confidential in a smaller community where people know each other and each other’s business,” Carter said. “Victims often feel they’ll be judged or in great danger if they talk about what they are experiencing.”

Carter has even witnessed families who have been forced to move out of their rural communities due to the threats and harassment.

“People often blame the victim for the abuser’s behavior; sometimes harassing them to the point where they consider returning to the relationship,” Carter said. “This is heightened in rural communities due to the close personal and family relationships in the community.”

Carter said friends and parents should watch out for these warning signs in teen dating:

  • Changes in personality
  • Not wanting to go to school or participate in things they once enjoyed
  • Jealously from a partner
  • Isolation from friends/family
  • Marks on the body
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Withdrawn

If a teenager thinks they are in danger, Carter said they should talk with a trusted adult. Consider filing for a protection order. Notify the school to help keep he or she safe while at school. Seek counseling and make a safety plan.

“School personnel should be a place to start,” Carter said. “Calling or visiting with a domestic violence program in the area is an option.”

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