Text messages become a growing weapon in dating violence
Monday, June 21, 2010
The text messages to the 22-year-old Virginia woman arrived during the day and night, sometimes 20 or 30 at once. Her ex-boyfriend wanted her back. He would not be refused. He texted and called 758 times.
In New York, a 17-year-old trying to break up with her boyfriend got fewer messages, but they were menacing. "You don't need nobody else but me," read one. Another threatened to kill her.
It is all part of what is increasingly called "textual harassment," a growing aspect of dating violence at a time when cellphones and unlimited texting plans are ubiquitous among the young. It can be insidious, because messages pop up at the sender's will: Where r u? Who r u with? Why didnt u answer me?
"It's gotten astonishingly worse in the last two years," says Jill Murray, who has written several books on dating violence and speaks on the topic nationally. Especially for those who have grown up in digital times, "it's part and parcel of every abusive dating relationship now."
The harassed often feel compelled to answer the messages, whether they are one-word insults or 3 a.m. demands. Texts arrive in class, at the dinner table, in movie theaters -- 100 or more a day, for some.
Harassment is "just easier now, and it's even more persistent and constant, with no letting up," says Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University of Virginia, which became the focus of national attention in May with the killing of 22-year-old lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
Police have charged Love's ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, also 22, with first-degree murder and allege that he removed her computer from the crime scene as he fled. Police were investigating whether Huguely sent Love threatening e-mails or text messages.
Kacey Kirkland, a victim services specialist with the Fairfax County Police Department, has seen textual harassment in almost every form: Threats. Rumors. Lies. Late-night questions.
"The advances in technology are assisting the perpetrators in harassing and stalking and threatening their victims," Kirkland says.
In the case involving the 22-year-old who received 758 messages from her ex-boyfriend -- all unanswered -- the harassment led to stalking charges and a protective order, Kirkland says.
Harassment by text is only one facet of abusive relationships, which often involve contact in person, by phone, by e-mail, and through Facebook or other social networking sites.
Warning signs hidden
"What technology offers is irrefutable evidence of the abuse," says Cindy Southworth, founder of the Safety Net Project on technology at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, who says it helps in court and is hoping for an increase in conviction rates.