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Text messages become a growing weapon in dating violence

The parents of Siobhan Russell, slain by an ex-boyfriend, found alarming text messages.
The parents of Siobhan Russell, slain by an ex-boyfriend, found alarming text messages. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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As a parent, Lynne Russell thinks the privacy of text messaging helped obscure the danger that her daughter, Siobhan "Shev" Russell, 19, faced. The teenager from Oak Hill, Va., was killed by her boyfriend in April 2009, 10 weeks after delivering a graduation speech at Mountain View Alternative High School.

Later, Lynne Russell and her husband found scores of texts, some disturbing, that Siobhan's boyfriend, now 18, had sent. "I don't think she recognized the warning signs, and we didn't see the signs until it was too late," says Russell, who plans to start a dating-violence awareness campaign in the fall.

A federal survey released this month showed one of 10 high school students nationally reported being hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend during the previous year. In Maryland, which did a similar survey, one in six said they were hurt.

Although such surveys do not show a rise in violence, the texting culture has changed the experience.

In Rockville, a woman in her 20s was so closely tracked that her partner insisted that she text him photos to prove her whereabouts -- each with a clock displaying the time, says Hannah Sassoon, coordinator of Montgomery County's domestic violence response team.

Katalina Posada, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, says one of her friends is frequently texted by a jealous boyfriend. "It's like the 20 questions a parent would ask," she says, adding that she finally told her friend: "This isn't right."

Textual harassment is getting more attention as concerns about dating violence mount. In the past several years, about a dozen states have passed or are considering laws to bring dating violence education into schools.

The legislative push comes partly from parents such as Gary Cuccia, a Pennsylvania father whose daughter, Demi Brae, was killed a day after her 16th birthday in 2007. Cuccia says his daughter had broken up with her teenage boyfriend, whom the family thought of as likable, if a little jealous.

In the days before Demi's death, Cuccia would later learn, her ex-boyfriend texted her again and again: "You know you can't live without me," he wrote. "U need to see me." And: "I'm ballin my eyes."

When Demi finally agreed to see the boy, he came over when she was alone and stabbed her 16 times in her living room.

Her father says he thinks that the largely private nature of texting is an important aspect of the problem.

"When I was growing up, we had one phone in the whole house, and if you were fighting with your girlfriend, everybody knew about it," Cuccia says.


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