Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect phone number for the Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County.
The statistics are sobering. One in five teens in a serious relationship admits to being hit, slapped or pushed by her boyfriend. Thirty-two percent of female college students say they’ve been in violent relationships with previous partners. Twenty-one percent report they’re currently involved in a violent relationship.
The parents of these women are usually devastated by what they witness. They are alternately bewildered by their daughter’s choice in partners, concerned about her safety, and furious with the perpetrator. Yet they feel equally powerless to effect changes in the situation.
Moms and dads question why their daughters select and then stay with abusive partners. The answers are varied and complex. Many victims have grown up in abusive households and perceive the abuse as normal. They may feel they deserve the treatment they receive. Others lose confidence and self-esteem as the abuser continually degrades them.
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An abuser may threaten to harm himself or the victim or her family if she leaves him. He may also tell her that no one will want her and that she’ll have no place to go if they break up.
Victims may even feel trapped because the perpetrator has taken all their money and credit cards.
Rather than being helpless bystanders, parents can actually play a vital role in helping their daughters break free from the abusive cycle.
Begin by offering your undying love and concern. Your daughter’s emotional resilience is at an all-time low. She needs you to be her psychological rock. Avoid lectures or lengthy stories about what it was like when you were her age. Make it clear that you adore her and that you want what’s best for her. Acknowledge her internal struggle. Remind her that the abusive behavior is not her fault. Let her know that others have faced her same dilemma and that resources are available to help her get out.
Talk openly and honestly about her relationship. Point to behaviors you’ve witnessed that concern you. Perhaps you’ve repeatedly heard her boyfriend tell her to shut up. Or you’ve noticed that he frequently makes negative comments about her weight.
Listen to what she tells you. Her rationale may seem flawed. She may be missing obvious red flags. She may not understand the full gravity of what is happening. Still, it’s important that she have a sounding board and feels comfortable sharing with you.
Never give her an ultimatum. Statements such as, “If you continue to date that scum, don’t bother coming back to this house!” only alienate your daughter and push her further into his arms. Instead, repeat how much you love her and that you’ll always be available.
Avoid criticizing her partner. Yes, you may be aghast at how he treats her. But she’s still emotionally entrenched. The more you verbally attack him, the more she’ll come to his defense. Calmly express your viewpoint, then keep further opinions to yourself.
Never confront her partner, no matter how desperately you want to do so. That may place you in imminent danger and put her at risk when they are alone. If, however, you personally witness an act of violence toward your daughter, notify the police at once.
Provide your daughter with the necessary connections. The Women’s Shelter Program of San Luis Obispo County can be reached at 805-781-6400. The North County Women’s Resource Center is available at 805-461-1338. Or, she may choose to call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Know that you can’t do this for her. In spite of your best efforts, she may leave then return to her abusive boyfriend. Hang in there. Your ongoing love and support continue to help her. She needs you now more than ever. Trust that her good judgment will ultimately prevail.
Is your daughter in an abusive relationship?
Watch for these telltale signs:
She apologizes for his bad behavior or makes excuses for the way he treats her.
She loses interest in activities she once enjoyed.
She stops seeing family and friends.
He calls her names or puts her down in front of other people.
He is extremely jealous of her past boyfriends or of any attention from other men.
He tells others that her family doesn’t like him.
He controls her behavior. He tells her what to wear, how to act and what to say.
He checks up on her constantly and becomes angry if he can’t reach her.
Your daughter rationalizes the way he treats her.
Your daughter has unexplained injuries, or offers explanations that don’t make sense.
You witness him behaving violently, such as breaking an object, throwing things across the room or hurting a pet.
If you notice even one of these warning signals, talk to your daughter immediately. Her life or emotional well-being may be in danger.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com