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They were at a party, and Joe (not his real name), the cute football player she’d been dating, had kicked her, hard, propelling her into a wall, where she had hit her head and blacked out.
“I woke up and he was hovering over me,” Sarah, now 18, recalls.
“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.
He sent me instant message after instant message.” Sarah printed and kept some of the dozens which were sent minutes apart: “i never wanted to scare u,” he wrote in one; another said, “i would never hurt you and i hope u dont honestly think I would.” A few days later Joe surprised Sarah while she was jogging, presenting another bouquet of roses. (PEOPLE’s multiple calls to Joe and his family were not returned.) Just before Valentine’s Day, 2005, Sarah met Joe at a party.
By the time she arrived with a girlfriend, she says, Joe was drunk.
“As a parent you don’t know what to do,” says Kate, a workspace designer.
What is clear: Boy abusers and girl victims, without help, are likely to repeat those roles as adults. Every afternoon she would sit on the front lawn of her house in a suburb of Palo Alto, Calif., hoping to catch a moment with Joe as he walked home from practice.“I just wanted to get away.” Just four months earlier, Sarah thought she’d found the perfect boyfriend, ready with corsages, compliments and movie dates.Quickly, though, sweet talk gave way to insults and demands and, finally, physical abuse. 12, 2005, kicking incident, Sarah, a willowy strawberry blonde with a spray of freckles across her cheeks, stood in line at the family division of the Santa Clara County, Calif., court clerk’s office, waiting to pick up a copy of a restraining order.“I never would have thought,” Sarah says now, “something like this would happen to me.” Once a hidden problem, teen dating violence is getting some serious attention.A 2005 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of 6,888 high school girls surveyed nationally, 1 in 11 had been hit, slapped or punched by an intimate partner.