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“He snapped,” Sarah says, still wincing at the memory.“He lifted his leg up and kicked me in the stomach.“This is a major adolescent health issue,” says Jay Silverman, associate professor of society, human development and health, who directed the Harvard study.“It affects [girls’] academic lives, lowers their standards for relationships and puts them at great risk for unintended pregnancy and STDs.” No one knows what causes such behavior—theories range from violence in the home to alcohol and drug abuse; others suggest violence in movies and the Internet may play a role.The message must be clear that treating people in abusive ways will not be accepted, and policies must enforce this message to keep students safe.Sarah Van Zanten, 15, was lying on the floor, an ice pack on her aching ribs.Joe got a two-day suspension from school, the school confirms, for drinking.That night, Joe called to apologize; Sarah told him it was over.
A national survey found that ten percent of teens, female and male, had been the victims of physical dating violence within the past year and can increase the risk of physical injury, poor academic performance, binge drinking, suicide attempts, unhealthy sexual behaviors, substance abuse, negative body image and self-esteem, and violence in future relationships.“I was seeing Sarah less and less,” recalls Jeremy Carlson, 18.“It became kind of a joke—that she was too busy with school and crew.” Sarah kept her doubts to herself. “I think it has to do with being in one of the first relationships of your life. It made me feel loved.” But her parents, Kate and Mark, a computer software salesman, were worried.You don’t really know where to draw the line.” And then there was Joe himself, who followed up his outbursts with fervent apologies and tokens of love, usually bouquets of roses. Sarah, who had maintained a B average, started getting C’s and D’s, and her friends weren’t coming by anymore.“As a parent you don’t know what to do,” says Kate, a workspace designer.“They would say things like, ‘I know you are at practice right now, but I just wanted to be the first one to say hi,'” Sarah says.Initially flattered, Sarah gradually grew uneasy with Joe’s possessiveness.By the time she arrived with a girlfriend, she says, Joe was drunk.Something she said—to this day she doesn’t know what—enraged him.“Here was this child who had always been bright; suddenly she doesn’t have the self-esteem to care about herself, her grades or her future.” She tried talking to Sarah, who angrily rejected her suggestion that Joe was a bad influence; she also sent Sarah to a therapist, who suggested Kate and Mark try to understand why they disapproved of their daughter’s choices.One day in January 2005, Joe arrived at school drunk and threw Sarah against a locker.