BY RACHEL CHEESEMAN, FOUNDER OF STREET SMART SELF DEFENSE
It began with an innocent invitation for a date and ended a few months later in an ugly confrontation littered with expletives and an invasive, violent arm grab. It was my niece's first year of college. Prior to high school graduation, she was asked out on a date by an acquaintance. This was someone she had previously met among other friends, but didn't know well on a personal level. At first she wasn't that interested, but he persisted. Most young girls would say "what's wrong with that?" My answer is "nothing". It's quite normal for someone to pursue another whom they really like, and it's equally flattering for anyone to have an admirer. This is human nature, pure and simple. The problem is where "pursuit and flattery" crosses the path of "power and control" that the seemingly innocent relationship evolves into a vicious cycle of emotional and/or physical abuse. The key for young women is to heed the early warning signs and put an end to it before there is too much emotional investment in the relationship. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave.
Many of these types of relationships begin with a "honeymoon" phase, where often-times frequent compliments about a woman's appearance are given, being showered with gifts (especially pricey ones), cheap talk about you being the "only one" for him, etc. A manipulative person will do these types of things in the beginning to gain your trust so you will let your guard down. Such was the case with my niece. She finally accepted his numerous invitations for a date when he sent her flowers and a gift for her graduation, and then kept doing these unannounced surprises for the first month. It was around this time that his demeanor began to change. The gifts became less frequent and he became increasingly "paranoid" about her other friendships. Abusers will use gifts as a way to leverage situations to make you feel like they are "owed" something, and will also try to isolate you from family and friends to further influence their control. This whole process is what abusers use to break down a woman's self-esteem. In others words "you are nothing without me". My niece is a very social person and some of her friends are guys. Apparently, her new boyfriend couldn't seem to come to grips with that fact. His conversations on the subject became more hostile to the point that he was demanding that she turn over her phone so he could read her texts and/or facebook pages at will. It was her refusal to this request that he began accusing her of "cheating", which is another leveraging tactic abusers use to assert power. By this time, it was getting close to her starting school at an out-of-town university. Fortunately, she heeded the early warning signs and decided to end the relationship when she left for college......but was it really the end?
Shortly after starting college, my niece was at an on-campus dance. While having a good time with her friends, the "ex-boyfriend" showed up--to her surprise. He proceeded to aggressively confront her about why she broke up with him and how they should get back together. As he screamed at her, he suddenly grabbed her by the arm, which also pulled some of her hair. It was at this time my niece immediately raised her arms with shoulders back and told him to leave her alone, or else she was calling security. He did leave, but proceeded to blow up her phone with vicious texts. She responded by saying she was saving all texts and if it continued they were being turned over to the proper authorities. As fate would have it, she never heard from him again!
Remember, abusers are selfish cowards and empower themselves by drawing the life out of you. So why are young teens becoming abusive? Of course, the age-old influence from the media such as magazines, internet porn, violent movies and video games as well as abuse in the home all play a factor. But today's perpetrators are becoming younger. I truly feel that the big contributing factor to this disturbing trend lies within the advent of social media. These kids live in a society of increasing, immediate self-gratification. Self-worth is measured by "selfies" and "friend requests" on facebook. And if they think they are behind everyone else's quota, this gradually feeds into their own insecurity. It can either influence someone to become abusive or become a victim of abuse. The other problem with social media is that it readily broadcasts violence, because raw footage is captured by cell phones. Our youth are seeing videos of gang rape and other vicious acts of violence without a filter. The over-exposure and hype to this type of raw footage leads to a higher tolerance perception of abuse. Fortunately for my niece, she was confident enough to not allow the situation to progress to an even more dangerous level and used her common sense to block him from all forms of future communication.
Our teens are growing up in a world defined by their online profile. Let's encourage them to see their lives through a prism much broader than a hand-held 5 inch screen.
Rachel Cheeseman is a 2nd degree black belt and has studied the martial arts for the past 28 years. She founded Street Smart Self Defense Academy in Erie, PA 17 years ago to empower women, due to the rape of her sister in her off-campus college apartment. She is a certified instructor for the national full-contact self-defense program called “Model Mugging” and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops. Rachel is also a member of and former seminar instructor for the American Women’s Self Defense Association, and she has been inducted into the USA Martial Arts Hall of Fame, Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Honors and the World Karate Union Hall of Fame.