PALM BEACH, Fla. – The image of a married woman hiding a black eye behind sunglasses as a symbol of intimate partner abuse is being eclipsed by the image of a girl walking through a school hallway hiding bruises her boyfriend gave her — too young and inexperienced to think of the blows as anything but love.
Nearly 1.5 million high school students across the country experience physical violence at the hands of a dating partner each year, according to a website created by the National Dating Abuse Hotline and the awareness group Break the Cycle.
One in three adolescents have experienced physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend, a rate that exceeds other forms of youth violence, said the website, Loveisrespect.org.
That rate is holding steady, even as other forms of violence decrease, the American Psychological Association said. And that alarms domestic violence workers in Palm Beach County.
“We see a lot of parallels between teen dating violence and adult domestic abuse,” said the Rev. J.R. Thicklin, president and CEO of Destiny by Choice, a West Palm Beach domestic violence awareness group.
“But in the case of teens, there are a whole lot of other issues that don’t exist between adults,” he added, “and that’s one thing that makes the statistics especially disturbing.”
Unlike adults, teens in abusive relationships don’t typically live together or see one another much outside of school. Their battleground becomes the telephone and social media — where put-downs, name calling and jealousy manifest in angry phone calls and Facebook posts.
But when they meet, the episodes can be just as violent as those among adults. Thicklin brought up the case of Brandon Nicholas Santos, 18, arrested on first-degree murder charges in the death of his girlfriend, Emilie Sineace, 16.
Police said Santos drove to Emilie’s suburban Lake Worth house Sept. 14 and sent her a text message to come outside. When she did, he fired six shots at her. Half of them hit her and Emilie, an Inlet Grove High student who aspired to be a surgeon, died the next morning. Now Santos, who played football at Park Vista High in suburban Boynton Beach, may spend the rest of his life in prison.
“The thing about this case is that so many people say that (Santos) was a nice young man, and he didn’t appear to them to be violent,” Thicklin said. “But again, it goes back to so many times where our young men are taught, either at home or from the people around them.
“They can’t let a woman ‘run them’ or they need to ‘get her in line’ or other mind-sets that make them feel like they need to have a sense of ownership over the person they’re dating.”