Texting Tangles with Abuse in Teen Relationships

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NEW YORK (WOMEN’S ENEWS) – When Neldy Torres is asked about times when a cell phone might have turned into a tool of dating abuse in her age group, she doesn’t have to think too far.

She quickly recalls the friend who, four years ago, checked with her boyfriend for approval of what to wear to school each day.

“Every morning before going to school, she had to send a picture of what she [was] wearing. She could never wear tight dresses or shorts,” Torres, 17, a student at Long Island’s Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School, said in a phone interview. The boyfriend, she said, would force her friend to change if he thought she was dressing like a “slut” or a “whore.”

Though text abuse is often kept quiet, many students, like Torres, know a peer who has been victimized by a partner. One in four dating teens is abused or harassed by their partners, either online or through text messages, finds a 2013 report by the Urban Institute, a socioeconomic research tank in Washington, D.C.

Technology “gives the batterer another tool in their toolbox to be able to stalk, harass, control, and be in constant contact with their partner in a way that they were never able to before,” said Janine M. Zweig, lead author of the institute’s report, in a recent phone interview.

Landlines Were Different

Zweig said that in years past landlines kept families aware of who was contacting their teens. In the cell phone era, parents are often clueless about persistent text messages and negative posts on social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“A phone is very private,” Zweig said. “They may be receiving texts that might be harassing but people are not aware of it.”

Thirteen-year-old Alyssa Bullen-Robertson of Lyncourt School in Syracuse, N.Y., watched a friend skip school because of text abuse by a boyfriend.

“He would text her all the time and say threatening stuff,” Bullen-Robertson said in a recent phone interview. “She was really depressed. She was afraid to go to school.”

Digital dating abuse among teens goes beyond text messages or persistent phone calls. Just ask Monique Golden, 17, of Suffolk County, N.Y.

Social media outlets such as Facebook allow users to publicize their private relationship “status” and many teens do. But when Golden was 14 years old, the pictures of her relationship on Facebook did not reflect the image of her controlling and obsessive and relatively long-lasting now-ex-boyfriend.

“People said, ‘I want to last long like them,’ but in reality I don’t think anyone would want to end up like me and him,” Golden said.

Arguing on Facebook

In the summer of ninth grade, as the mercury started to rise, so did the tension in Golden’s relationship. “As soon as we got into an argument, it was posted on Facebook. Everything we did was posted on Facebook,” Golden said. She called his posts “shocking” and she felt “surprised” by his behavior.

“It was too much for me,” Golden said. She said that her peers began to take notice of the arguments. She explained that social media became a platform for unsolicited comments about her relationship.

“Everyone had questions, and everyone was talking about me . . . it was too much to take in.” said Golden.

While the comments burdened the 14-year-old, Golden survived the peer harassment.

“It affected me, but I didn’t let it bother me because I knew it wasn’t true,” Golden said.

Jordan Chamber, 17, a high school junior living in Amityville, N.Y., admits that he once used social media in a way he now regrets. After a friend sent an explicit video of his ex-girlfriend cheating, he felt “upset” and “sad.” After the break-up, he posted personal information about her on social media.

“I wanted payback for what she did to me,” Chambers said. “You can write down whatever you’re feeling and it is for the whole world to see.”

Chambers said that when he calmed down he regretted what he’d done. “It just escalated the problem. It made me feel bad about what I did.”

Accusations on Instagram

SUNY Buffalo State student Michael Bundrage said that a past girlfriend would constantly accuse him of cheating on the social media site Instagram.

“You can be friendly on social media, but your partner may not like how friendly you are being,” Bundrage said. “They see the littlest things and [they] toy with it.”

Bundrage’s younger brother, Elijah, hasn’t learned from his brother’s experience. The Syracuse, N.Y., Corcoran High School freshman said that he shares passwords in a relationship because he wants to show that he is trustworthy.

“If I give you my password you should have trust in me like I have trust in you,” Elijah, 14, said. When he shared his password with a previous girlfriend he felt “confident” because he could not be accused of “lying” or “talking to other girls.” Elijah said he wanted to prove he was “faithful” and “honestly doesn’t care,” that the girlfriend kept her password private.

But Merima Muminovic 14, of Nottingham High School in Syracuse, N.Y., disagrees.

“There isn’t trust there, if you need to check up on him or if he needs to check up on you,” Merima said. In a previous relationship, she logged onto a boyfriend’s social media profile and discovered he was flirting with multiple girls on social media.

The message that healthy relationships involve trust and privacy is something that Futures Without Violence, an initiative sponsored by Macy’s, wants to share through its work.

“It is okay to keep some things private from you partner. They don’t need to share their passwords to show that they love their partner,” said Casey Corcoran, program director of Futures Without Violence in Boston.

The impact of digital dating abuse is beyond the bounds of a romantic relationship and can have a lasting effect on the victims’ peers as well.

Both Torres and her friend refuse to be wired to social networking sites and since the summer of 2013 have deactivated their social media accounts.

“We no longer use Twitter, Tumblr, Kik or Facebook,” Torres said. “The people that matter should know what is going on in your life without you having to post it on Facebook.”

After Golden’s bitter experience with digital abuse, she explained her ex-boyfriend has since apologized for his behavior. Golden, now a graduating senior, said though they “are not enemies” she does not intend on going out with him in the future.

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