By Ambar Espinoza, 17, University HS
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I would hate to live like the teens described in In Love and In Danger: A Teen’s Guide To Breaking Free of Abusive Relationships by Barrie Levy. Full of fear. Imprisoned in a world that only makes you feel useless and helpless. That’s life in an abusive relationship.

In many ways, the book was really helpful to me in understanding how serious it is to be in an abusive relationship. I never thought it could get to the point where abusers hurt their partners and the parents can’t do anything about it. I never thought that the abusers would go so far as to kill. I never thought that being in an abusive relationship could destroy your life and your future. But it can. Dating violence doesn’t just destroy victims physically but it chops them up inside, making it difficult for the victim to start a new life and a new relationship.

Each chapter of the book has a different theme, situation and approach. The book kept getting better and better as I read and the next thing I knew, I had finished it in one day. It was all interesting, especially when Levy describes the cycle of violence; the difference between romantic, nurturing and addictive love; and the scars caused by abusive relationships.

Look for nurturing, not addictive love

Levy said teens should look for nurturing love, not romantic love. It made sense to me once I read what she meant. In romantic love, everything seems perfect. You never see your partner’s flaws. You become part of each other’s lives. But when the romance is over, you may break up. If you stay together, your love can be nurturing or addictive. Nurturing love is when you and your partner are happy with each other. You encourage and support each other to do whatever is best, in school or at work, with family or with friends. You feel safe to express your feelings. Arguments don’t scare you. If either of you want time alone, the other accepts it. You feel comfortable being you.

Addictive love is scary. You feel like you can’t live without your partner. You hate spending time away from her or him. You’ll die if you’re not together 24/7. Happy moments are rare. Instead, your time is spent on apologies, promises, fear and guilt. You don’t make plans until you find out what your partner is planning. Sometimes addictive love can develop into abuse. A guy may try to hide his addiction because it isn’t "manly" to need a girl. So he may control her. She may be a target for him whenever he is mad. But if you are the abused girlfriend or boyfriend, your addiction may not let you see how much your boyfriend or girlfriend is hurting you. Once again, I’ve only seen this in movies. But I realized as I read this that it actually does happen.

Violence hurts people forever

It was so sad to read about the scars that are left when someone is in an abusive relationship. The physical scars may be broken bones, stitches or a permanent disability. Other scars may be invisible. Victims are ashamed of their bodies. They’re afraid of people, afraid to look attractive. They isolate themselves and they’re depressed all the time.

The book has great stories that build a clear picture of what abuse is like. The first story from "Deborah" dealt with her relationship with "Larry." When Deborah met Larry, she thought it was love at first sight. But he became possessive and jealous. He forbade Deborah to hang around her friends and invented lies about them. He criticized her family. He verbally abused her, even in front of her parents, and he coerced her to have sex with him. Her brother helped her out but where were her parents when all of these things were happening to her? They tried sending her to Israel to get her away from her problems. But that didn’t help.

I saw the same pattern with "Adaliz" and her boyfriend "Richard." Richard controlled what she could wear, who she could be friends with. He accused her of cheating and hit her. Verbal and physical abuses were constant. As a result, Adaliz’s grades went down, she ditched a lot and she didn’t take care of her appearance. Her parents tried to help her but the situation was so complicated. That is something I didn’t understand. Why couldn’t her parents control her? Why couldn’t they keep Richard away from her?

The violence became worse when they started to have sex. Even when she became pregnant, he didn’t stop hitting her. He still aimed for the stomach and the back of her head so the bruises wouldn’t show. After the first baby was born, Adaliz got pregnant again and married him. She ended her relationship when she finally realized that she didn’t want to live her life like that anymore.

"Terrie," a mother who struggled to free her daughter "Bobbie" from her abusive boyfriend, tells the last story. Terrie got calls from Bobbie’s counselor informing her that her daughter was ditching school and forging her parent’s signature. Bobbie’s appearance started to change. She didn’t wear make-up anymore. She dressed in sweats and sneakers with filthy hair and she would constantly get sore throats. When Bobbie started to live with him, Terrie would always see her with bruises all over her face. Bobbie ended up in an emergency room and when she was better, Terrie sent her to live with her sister. When Bobbie returned, she was herself again and even though her abuser tried to get into her life again, Bobbie knew better.

I learned that abusers will beat you even if you’re pregnant, even if your parents try to help you, even if you do what they say. I learned that dating violence can happen to girls and boys, and can happen in gay relationships, too.

The exercises at the end of most chapters help you write your feelings about dating violence. These exercises were aimed for people in an actual abusive relationship. But I wonder if the victims might be afraid of picking up this book and writing in it. After they write it down, what if the abusers find this book? What if they are angry about the book and get violent to their partner?

Throughout the book, Levy stresses parent support. Parents need to put their foot down with those abusers. I had a close friend who was in an abusive relationship and her mother did everything in her power to help her. As a result, the abuse stopped. But Adaliz had to get pregnant twice and Bobbie had to end up in an emergency room to finally get away from their boyfriends. Maybe I don’t understand because I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. This book helped me be more understanding of both the parents and victims of abusive relationships.

Teens should read this book to know exactly what dating violence is. One girl was forced to walk home naked. Another had sex with the abuser because she was afraid of saying no to him. That’s sexual abuse—I never knew that. Overall, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about. This book can help teens recognize that they’re in an abusive relationship or that they are abusing their girlfriend or boyfriend. And it can help parents recognize the signs. This book can save a lot of heartache.

Click here to read our Cover Story about an abusive relationship one teen had with her boyfriend.