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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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Last year, Maryland passed a bill to encourage -- rather than require -- school districts to teach the topic. It was less than what Bill and Michele Mitchell, who lost their 21-year-old daughter, Kristin, to dating violence, wanted. But it was a start, and the couple from Ellicott City will continue to push, they say.

Bill Mitchell says he hopes that more young people will begin to see warning signs where his family did not.

Just hours before she was killed in 2005, Kristin had texted her boyfriend: "You are being ridiculous. Why cant i do something with my friends."

He later found and heard about other texts, including one that asked why she had gone to her class rather than spend time with her boyfriend. Kristin was in her senior year at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia and graduated three weeks before her death.

Says Mitchell: "Text messaging, in the wrong hands, has to be about the worst thing that's come along when we're talking about dating violence and controlling personalities."

Being tracked

In a recent survey, nearly one in four of those ages 14 to 24 reported that partners check in multiple times a day to see where they are or who they are with, and more than one in 10 said partners demanded passwords, according to a survey by the Associated Press and MTV.

One challenge is that many teens do not view excessive texting as a problem and may not recognize abusive behaviors. "If you're getting 50 messages an hour and you want 50 messages an hour, that's not a problem," says Marjorie Gilberg, executive director of Break the Cycle, which works to end dating violence. "But if you're getting 50 messages an hour and you don't even want one, that's very different."

These sorts of topics are addressed through a teen help line called Love Is Respect and several national awareness campaigns, including MTV's effort on digital abuse, A Thin Line, a joint effort on digital dating abuse called That's Not Cool and the initiative Love Is Not Abuse.

In California, Jill Murray says her cases have included a 16-year-old whose ex-boyfriend paid four friends to help him text when he was asleep or at work. "It was like psychological torture."

Murray urges parents to pay more attention to their children's texting lives, checking to see how many messages they get, at what hour and from whom. "Parents don't know this is going on whatsoever," she says.

Staff writer Susan Kinzie contributed to this report.


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