Teen dating abuse leads to new law


Angela Cain/Eyewitness News

INDIANAPOLIS - One in four American teenagers reports they have been physically, verbally, emotionally or sexually abused, and that includes both girls and boys.

A video from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention re-enacts real-life stories of teen dating abuse. "If things didn't go his way, he'd threaten to hit me," one girl in the video says.

"What I would give for just one more hug," says Debbie Norris in the video.

Norris is a mother who lived a real life nightmare because of abuse.  Norris says her daughter Heather started dating an abusive boyfriend when she was a teenager.

Four years ago, he confessed to killing Heather and disposing of her body in area dumpsters. Joshua Bean is serving a 68-year prison sentence. "He took my heart, my soul, my life," she said.

But he didn't take away Debbie Norris' determination to save other teenagers from her daughter's fate. She took her crusade against teen dating abuse to the Indiana Statehouse and last year Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a new law in her daughter's name: Heather's Law. The law encourages Indiana schools to teach healthy relationship programs starting this school year.

Julie Marsh is the Domestic Violence Network Executive Director.

"It requires the Department of Education to develop and/or identify curricula in schools that can be used to discuss teen dating violence," said Marsh.

One of the dating abuse prevention programs the Department of Education has identified is called "Safe Dates" and it's already in some schools and youth service agencies.

"We talk about the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship," says Kelly Bremer of Start Strong Indianapolis. Safe Dates is a program from Start Strong Indianapolis. It's supported by IU Health, the Ruth Lilly Health Education Center, and the Domestic Violence Network.

"Tony became more and more possessive of Jennifer." Bremer says teens and their parents don't always know the warning signs of relationship abuse. There is the obvious, physical or verbal.  Then there's the not so obvious controlling behaviors from abusers. That controlling behavior is intensified for teens in a digital world.

Bremer adds, "We hear a lot about students who receive hundreds of text messages maybe in an hour from a dating partner asking 'where are you? Who are you with?'"

Start Strong Indianapolis arms students with the knowledge to live free of abuse.

But Start Strong also arms school teachers and adults who work with youth with the tools to teach "Safe Dates" and spread the message.  It holds training seminars. "Why are social issues something schools should be concerned with? Because kids are coming to school and they are checking out. They've been up all night hearing abusive language or physical abuse happening. They're scared to death. They're afraid they're going to lose the only two people they think love them."

"So they come in. They lay their heads on the table. They go to sleep. They have poor grades."

Healthy relationship programs could change their lives, showing them how to stop the cycle of abuse in their family.

And you can help change children's lives and also help prevent teen dating abuse. 13 WTHR has created a new "Shattering the Silence Fund" with the Domestic Violence Network. It will help pay for healthy relationship programs in youth service agencies and in schools to help enforce Heather's Law. 

You can also donate to help fund the program.

Please join us in shattering the silence. If you are in an abusive relationship, call 211.