Quiz: Is your relationship healthy or abusive?
A program helps teens in violent relationships

By Julissa Espinoza and Christy Buena, Los Angeles HS
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Illustration by Zack Lieberman, 13, John Adams Jr. HS

"Mark" seemed like the perfect guy to bring home to your parents. He had a job and a nice Oldsmobile. For "Dolores," 14, having a 19-year-old boyfriend seemed pretty cool. Mark was friends with Dolores’s sister, so she chose him as her partner for a quinceanera. Pretty soon they were talking on the phone and sometimes he came over after school. "He was really sweet, funny, everything he did was really funny to me. He was really, really nice. He would make me feel really comfortable, like he would tell me that he liked me and tell me things a boyfriend would tell you to catch your eye."

One day, Mark showed up at Dolores’s house, insisting that she had slept with another guy. Mark was furious, crying, calling her all these names, saying, "I gave you my trust how could you do this to me?" He felt betrayed and cheated on.

What happened next took Dolores by surprise. "I’ve never ever seen anybody hit anybody before, like a woman … he slapped my head really hard that I swear to God I felt my brain tilt to the side … When he hit me, I kinda blanked out for like five minutes. I thought, ‘No, he didn’t hit me. Yes, he did.’ I was crying while I was thinking, ‘How can he do this?’ It was something big for me because I had never been touched by a guy like that before. He didn’t seem to care, he just kept on yelling and screaming as if he hadn’t done anything."

After that, she told him to leave but he refused. He wanted to talk—he didn’t want to break up. "He seemed more calm but then he started getting mad again and I got up and he pulled me by my hair. I tried to spit at him, hit him, but I couldn’t get him. He kinda dragged me by my hair to my room. He closed the door, I was on the floor thinking, ‘Oh my god, he’s going to kick me.’ " She remained silent, afraid that saying the wrong words would just make him madder. Finally he left.

That same afternoon, he called apologizing and telling her that he loved her. "He made me forget what he had done by talking sweet to me saying, I love you, I don’t want to lose you. This went on for three years back and forth. "

Dating violence—it’s when your boyfriend or girlfriend beats you and does all these horrible things to you, and you just sort of stay quiet and hide it from everyone else. A lot of teens think it only happens to adults, but the truth is, it happens to many teenagers. One study showed an average of 28 percent of students experienced violence in a dating relationship, according to the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women.

She lived through a nightmare

It was shocking to hear Dolores tell the torture she experienced, to think that she is our age, and she has been through so much. One of the most shocking things that Dolores described was one of the times that he forced her to have sex with him. She stated, "The time I remember the most, I guess I had gotten high and he got mad and called me a b—-. We started fighting and somehow I landed on the floor. Then he was trying to take my pants off and I wouldn’t let him. I guess I was holding them so tight with my fingers that he actually tore them from the middle." She screamed at him to stop and tried to push him away, but he overpowered her. When she asked him why he hurt her like that, he said, "It’s no big deal, it’s not like I’m a stranger!"

Throughout the relationship he hit her once or twice a week, and he always gave the same lame excuses: "If you hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have hit you." "I didn’t mean to, I just get so mad and I lose it." "I’m sorry." "It’s not like I come home drunk and beat you up." "It’s not like I hit you every day." Whenever she refused to have sex with him he would try to make her feel guilty by saying "Am I that nasty to you!?" When she confronted him he would tell her to shut up.

Her best friend told her to leave him but she was so confused. Sometimes he was really sweet and she didn’t want to leave him. Other times, she was angry but she thought she loved him. She didn’t want to see him get beat up by somebody or arrested by the cops. She couldn’t really tell her parents—they thought he was a "nice boy." When he hit her, it made it hard for her to think clearly, and she’d start to believe what he said. "He brainwashed me," she said.

At another point in the interview, when asked why she didn’t leave him, she said, "To this day, I don’t know why."

As she talked about being raped and hit, Dolores seemed surprised—like she didn’t believe it. But as she described how he made her have an abortion at 14, tears rolled down her face. "I didn’t want to, but I felt like I had to," she said.

That’s why, when she got pregnant again at 15, she decided to keep it, though her mom urged her to have an abortion.

After the baby was born, she moved in with Mark and things seemed a little better. They took the baby to parks and went out to eat. Dolores was going to school, working and caring for the baby—but it seemed like something was always wrong. He would yell and beat her up because the baby bottles were dirty, the house was untidy, or the baby was crying. "She’d scream her lungs out and I couldn’t do anything and he’d get so stressed out and sock me on my head again."

He would not stop hitting her

A year passed, and he was hitting her three or four times a week. Her hair hid the bumps on her head, and she covered up the bruises with makeup. Sometimes she ditched school so no one would see the marks. Once he beat her so badly that she got a blood clot in her eye and she didn’t leave her house for two weeks. "I realized it was bad because when he’d try to kiss me, the baby would start screaming."

One day a teacher at school saw her busted lip and reported her to the Department of Children’s Services. A social worker came to Dolores’s parents’ home to talk to them, saying that if she stayed with him, they were going to take the baby away. Her father said, "Why didn’t you tell me this? I’m gonna kill him if he ever lays a hand on you."

Dolores moved home the next day. Her boyfriend was angry. "He would tell me it was my fault—I opened my mouth," she recalled.

After she left, he constantly called her and asked for another chance, but she stuck to her decision.
She paid a high price for staying with him, trading her teenage years to be hit and yelled at, and she will always regret the abortion she had at 14. She was hit on the head so many times it has affected her grades; she can’t seem to concentrate or learn as well as she used to. She has trouble trusting anyone now. And her daughter, who looks just like her ex-boyfriend, is a constant reminder of him.

Today, Dolores is 18 and lives with her parents in Los Angeles while going to school, working and taking care of her two-year-old daughter. She hopes to finish high school and go to college. She is no longer with Mark but occasionally sees him because they share child care responsibilities. Maybe God was testing her through this relationship, she said. "I think I have a strong mind, and I try not to think about it too much."

The names of Dolores and Mark were changed for this article.

Dolores’s advice: Get away from violent partners

Dolores’s advice to other teens in a violent relationship: Don’t believe the abuser—get out of the relationship. "No matter how much they say they are going to change, they’re never going to change. They’re probably going to try for a month or two but afterward when they can’t hold it anymore, they don’t change. It’ll start small by words. It’s just gonna escalate to something big. You could end up being killed. You should get out of a relationship that has anything to do with violence."

As soon as any guy gets abusive, call for help, she advised. If he hits you, call the cops. Tell your parents and friends.

In addition, she suggests that teens should take their time when they start dating. "Learn about him first. Try to get to know him before you get involved in a relationship. Have trust and respect one another. A guy can’t tell you what to do—if you want to go out, you have the right to go out."