The statistics to quantify the number of women, men, and teens is staggering. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1 in 4 women, 1 in 7 men 18 years and older have experienced physical violence in their lifetime. My experience happened prior to the age of eighteen, like many of the girls I knew in high school. We were not reporting, nor seeking help. Like many victims living in distressed communities, you are conditioned to just deal with the circumstances and adapt. I call these the voices in the shadows. Who hears their cries? Is anyone listening? Does anyone care?
The term domestic violence for a teenager in the shadows is none existent. Let me see the best way to describe it – There are many indicators the relationship is unhealthy and headed down a destructive path; however, none of that sticks out as problematic. In the scheme of things, it is not a big deal. The idea of a boyfriend is nice. When he becomes possessive of time, isolates her from friends, it feels a bit flattering. Somewhat a barometer of how much he cares. After all, how could she possibly know what a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship looks like? In the shadows, life does you, you are not doing life. Parents, grandparents, and whomever else is a part of the family support system are doing whatever is necessary to keep the family going. In some instances, the adults responsible for leading the way have no idea where they are going. In most instances the adults have no idea she is in danger. Why? When the first smack across the face happens, she is so confused. How could a smack across the face feel like love? When the tears start running down his face, he expresses how much he loves her, and assures her it will never happen again, she believes him. She is not stupid, she is vulnerable and manipulated. Her definition of love is distorted. She places her heart into the hands of wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. And so, the cycle begins. Now when he hits her, her focus becomes protecting him and forsaking herself.
I remember an incident in my kitchen. While I do not remember the trigger, I remember the moment like yesterday. He punched me so hard on the side of the head I fell on the floor. I balled up in a fetus position, because I knew what was coming next. He started kicking me in my body and punching me in my head. As I laid there I thought, “I hope my mom does not hear”. Then I thought, “I hope I do not have any marks on my face.” Not because I was concerned about me. I was concerned people would find out. Bruises on my body I could hide. There were no marks on my face. However, the blow to my ear had so much force, my hearing was affected in my right ear.
This is not a story for empathy, it is the sounding of an alarm. There are staggering numbers of teenage girls in abusive relationships living in the shadows. No one hears their cries. They cry silent tears. If I can turn up the volume, get your attention, you just may open your eyes and see them. If she has become isolated from friends, stopped hanging out with the family, wears her hair over her eyes, wears out of season clothing to cover her body, will not let you see her body exposed, is constantly guarding him from your concerns, has a change in her normal disposition – PAY ATTENTION. Talk about authentic love and healthy relationships. Do not leave it up to a fraud to convince her otherwise. You are her first responder. She is counting on you to hear her, even when she silently screams in the shadows.