“She got what she deserved,” declared the 16-year-old from Montgomery County.
The girl was fierce, with long, gold nails painted to match her pants, colored rubber bands on her braces and lots of attitude. She has had a few boyfriends and didn’t lament her messy breakup with a guy who had bullied her into giving up her online passwords. “He’s ugly now anyways,” she snapped.
I had asked her what she thought of the singer Rihanna, who is back together with Chris Brown, the man who infamously bashed up her perfect face three years ago.
Rihanna “is an aggressive woman, Caribbean. And she stepped out of line,” Goldfingers told me.
I looked to her friend, the wise 17-year-old with purple nails. “Uh-huh,” she said. “But they’re okay now. Chris and Rihanna are okay.”
Here’s the worst part: This was the girls’ attitude minutes after an intense, four-hour conference for teens on dating violence.
The teens heard songs and public service announcements and did role-playing exercises about how to identify, prevent and stop dating violence. They correctly answered questions posed by prosecutors from the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, which has put on the conference four years in a row now. They learned about restraining orders, controlling behavior and cyber-stalking.
But still, after all that, those girls thought Rihanna somehow deserved to be beaten. It made me despondent.
Dating violence has always been a problem. And despite outreach, better laws and smarter cops who know what to look for, technology has made it easier than ever for abusers to reach their victims.
Technology gives controlling abusers a 24-hour way to reach out and digitally grab their victims, without any adult seeing the dangerous dynamic of a relationship. Texting is like training wheels for stalkers.
“People no longer have to be actually physically together to fall victim to or perpetrate various forms of dating abuse,” said Janine Zweig, a researcher at the Urban Institute and lead author of the study.
In other words, this is a parents’ nightmare.
More than half of the kids in the study said they had experienced physical abuse, from scratching to choking. And one-third said that they had been sexually coerced.
“It’s a whole new world out there. Nothing like what I had,” said one mother who brought her daughter to Sunday’s conference.
Throughout the day, kids were reminded of the tragic story of Yeardley Love, the pretty blond University of Virginia lacrosse player who was killed by her jealous, drunken, jock boyfriend, George Huguely. He is now in prison.
In person, they looked perfect. But some of their most vicious fighting took place online, hidden so no one could see — or help.
In a room full of 16- to 18-year-old boys, the workshop focused on this dynamic.
School counselor Jason Kling showed a few Power Point scenarios where the stalker, beater and aggressor was always the male. “Generally, we are considered the perpetrators,” he said. The room buzzed with agreement.
Kling pointed toward the girls’ workshop down the hall. “The girls over there are being empowered to speak up,” he said.
Even if girls egg guys on, yell at them, tease them or cheat on them, it’s still not cool to hit, Kling told the boys.
“Even if she makes you hit her?” one boy asked.
“The judge isn’t going to care why you hit her,” said Steve Chaikin, a prosecutor and division chief at the county State’s Attorney’s Office.
Back-talking, teasing, cheating. None of it means it’s acceptable to hit.
“When you feel like violence is coming, you know what the answer is?” Chaikin asked. “Walk away.”
Over in the girls’ room, prosecutor Amanda Michalski talked about online abuse and sexting. She asked the girls — sweet teens in Ugg boots and lip gloss, polite girls whose moms dropped them off at the conference — whether any of them or their friends have been pressured to text nude pictures of themselves to a boyfriend. The response was almost unanimous.
“Yeah. Totally. He was all, ‘You can trust me,’ ” one girl said.
After the seminar, Michalski said she was stunned by the prevalence of online abuse.
“That was really surprising to me,” she said. And disappointing.
We still have a long, long way to go before teens understand that the only thing anyone deserves is respect.
Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.