When teenage romance goes wrong
Portland schools host expert on abusive relationships
PORTLAND — A national expert on teen dating violence will speak at three city high schools on Thursday, March 19, about preventing abusive relationships.
The visit comes at a time when a violent episode between two young pop singers and teen icons, Chris Brown and Rihanna, continues to dominate headlines.
Last month, Brown, 19, was arrested on felony charges of assault and criminal threatening after allegedly beating Rihanna, his 21-year-old girlfriend.
On Thursday, Vicki Crompton-Tetter will give presentations to students at Portland, Deering and Casco Bay high schools. A free public forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Portland High School Auditorium. She will discuss the warning signs of dating violence, examine the causes of adolescent male violence and ways to protect children.
Crompton-Tetter is the author of "Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter from Unhealthy Relationships," which she wrote after the murder of her 15-year-old daughter. The book also tells stories about other teenage girls who have been either verbally or physically abused.
Crompton-Tetter, who has appeared on national television programs like "Oprah," "60 Minutes" and "Today," has been reaching out to students and parents since her daughter's death more than 20 years ago. In 1986, Jenny Crompton was killed by her ex-boyfriend, Mark Smith, during homecoming week.
"Since then, I have worked to educate teens, parents and school officials nationwide on the warning signs and dangers of unhealthy relationships," Crompton-Tetter says on her Web site, which states a third of teens nationally report experiencing physical, sexual, verbal and/or emotional abuse in their romantic relationships.
Crompton-Tetter said in an e-mail that her hour-long presentation will tell her daughter's story and be supplemented with video clips of her daughter, her daughter's friends and her daughter's murderer. It will also touch upon the impact of today's technology on dating violence.
"I (will) talk about the deception Mark and Jenny used to keep me in the dark," Crompton-Tetter said, noting that the boyfriend's behavior was increasingly abusive. "I want students to understand this behavior is not healthy and not OK. I want friends to stick by and not abandon someone who is in such a relationship."
Crompton-Tetter also wants parents to understand that simply demanding that their children leave a suspected abuser will not work and that education, not necessarily authority, is needed.
"I want parents to understand the dynamics of abuse," she said. "When parents try to force it, they may see their child turn into someone they hardly know."
Crompton-Tetter's visit is co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and Real Life Real Talk, a national initiative seeking to encourage open, frank discussion about sex and health. The School Department is a regional member of the group.
Susan Steele, the schools' director of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said Tetter's visit is an opportunity for parents and students to educate themselves to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship and how to address it.
"Building healthy relationships is very important," Steele said.
She said educating teenagers is one way to reduce the overall rate of domestic violence in the state.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 85 percent, or 1.3 million, of all domestic violence victims are women who are abused by an intimate partner. Statistics indicate that women between the ages of 20 and 24 are the most at-risk, but experts believe that teenage abuse goes unrecognized and/or unreported.
The Maine Coalition Against Drunk Driving has said that in 2007, a domestic assault was reported every 96 minutes in Maine. Seven of the state's 22 homicides in that year were the result of intimate-partner violence.
"Domestic violence is a real issue," Steele said. "All of those people involved in domestic violence were teenagers at one point."