At first, Taylor Brown thought her high school boyfriend’s sexual aggression was normal. She was just 16.
He touched her without her consent, read her emails and sent her male friends texts from her phone to try to get them to confess that she cheated on him with them.
Eventually, he coerced her into having sex though she said no.
On other occasions, she locked herself behind doors, fearing he would hit her.
“I thought I was going to die, honestly,” Brown said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be something he did, or something I did to myself because I couldn’t take being in that situation anymore.”
“I didn’t feel like my body belonged to me anymore,” she continued.
Relationship violence is not limited to adults, and several behaviors familiar to many teenagers can be red flags, experts say.
“Teen dating violence is more common than you might think,” Natalia Otero, a domestic violence expert and the executive director of D.C. Safe, told News4.
Red flags include a significant other texting you very regularly, asking for your social media passwords and trying to change the way you dress, Otero said.
Approximately 11 percent of high school students surveyed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015 reported sexual abuse or coercion by their significant other, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. About 10 percent reported physical violence.
Teen dating violence, according to The National Institute of Justice, is physical, psychological or sexual abuse — or harassment or stalking — of someone age 12 to 18, in the context of a past or present consensual relationship.
Brown, the woman who was abused by her boyfriend as a teen, is in college now and is still working to move on.
Some teens never get out of abusive relationships.
A 17-year-old girl was shot and killed in a park in Alexandria, Virginia, on Oct. 22 in what police called a murder-suicide.
Friends of the victim said the man who police identified as the gunman, Yerson Nunez Lopez, 19, was the girl’s ex-boyfriend.
Teen dating violence is not uncommon in the D.C. area, Otera of D.C. Safe said. The organization is a crisis intervention group for survivors. They served about 8,000 clients last year. More than 100 of their clients were 13 to 17 years old, Otera said.
Otera said teen dating abuse perpetrators often previously were victims of abuse.
“Domestic violence is a learned behavior,” she said. “Children that are in homes where they are witnessing violence between their parents are more likely to become abusers.”
Brown said she didn’t know if her high school boyfriend ever was abused himself. She said she did see red flags in his parents’ behavior. They treated him and his older sister very differently, she said.
“[His sister] wasn’t allowed to have guys over or even date for a long time. But with him, I was even allowed to sleep at their house for a week straight. At the time, I thought that was a benefit to me.”
Brown was able to get out of her abusive relationship and eventually felt strong enough to date others. But the harassment continued for a full year after she broke things off with her high school boyfriend.
He continued to hack into her text messages and told Brown’s new significant other that he and Brown were still together, she said.
The emotional effects of the abuse continued.
“I was afraid of being with other men for a while, but then I hit this point where I was like, ‘Nothing can be worse than what I was just in.’”
Teen dating violence survivors can suffer long term.
Victims of intimate partner violence are more likely than the general population to experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports. Victims also are more likely to commit suicide.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Brown advised. “Don’t be afraid to tell someone what’s going on.”
She said it was hard to come to terms with what was happening to her.
“I convinced myself and my friends that it didn’t happen because I didn’t want to believe or accept that it did,” she said.
But asking for help could be the difference between life and death.
If you are a teen in an abusive relationship, there are several resources available to you for free.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 800-799-7233.
Additionally, victims that live in the District can reach out to D.C. Safe for immediate crisis shelter, help with the court process and access to other supportive resources. They’re available at 202-879-0720.
Brown is now studying to be a nurse. She dreams of starting a program to educate young women about healthy relationships — specifically women who have been victims of physical or sexual violence, like herself.