Saving Beauty from the Beast

How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship


By Vicki Crompton

By Ellen Zelda Kessner

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Dating violence affects a huge number of teenage girls — one in three girls between the ages of ten and eighteen reports having been assaulted by a boyfriend — and can run the gamut from possessiveness to stalking to outright physical abuse. Often it is the girls with the highest selfesteem, those who believe they are in control of their lives and can bring out the best in their boyfriends, who find themselves in the grip of a relationship in which the tables have been turned.

This essential and timely book incorporates the insights and advice of experts in the fields of education, adolescent psychology, criminal justice, threat assessment, and sociology. Authors Crompton and Kessner also include the voices of teenagers and parents to provide an in-depth portrait of the dynamics of controlling behavior.


AUTHORS' NOTE: Featured in this book are true stories ofindividuals, notcomposites. Many ofthe persons interviewed have kindly permitted us touse their real names. Others have requested that we change their names. Wehave indicated aliases with asterisks. (First names beneath the italicizedquotes throughout the book have also been changed to protect privacy.) We thank all the interviewees for sharing their stories.

Copyright © 2003 by Vicki Crompton and Ellen Zelda Kessner

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

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ISBN: 978-0-316-03004-5

Book design by Oksana Kushnir


We are most grateful to the young people and to the moms and dads who agreed to tell their stories for this book. They generously gave us hours of their time and courageously relived their experiences, sharing with us in great depth their anguish, fears, frustrations, and eventual triumphs. We would like to name them all, but some, wishing to protect their privacy, have asked us to disguise their identities. And so, we broadcast our appreciation to those who have allowed us to use their real names:

Meredith BlakeJennifer ColemanEmiliano de Leon
Maria FedeleKate LandisHelen Tarnares
Vasso TarnaresRosalind Wiseman

We would also like to give our sincere thanks to the mom-and-daughter team of Lorre and Nikki Taylor and the dad-and-daughter team of Brien and Zeina Kinkel, who so articulately described the ways in which they communicate the possibility of abuse before the situation can develop.

Without the insights and practical advice of experts in many fields — psychologists, school principals and counselors, family therapists, law enforcement officers, and threat-assessment professionals — this book would not have been possible. For their unending patience in answering every new question that came up and for sending us a wealth of helpful materials, we are especially grateful to

Leah AldridgeJanet BergerJacey Buel
Sarah BuelCarol EagleEva Feindler
Karen HarkerEugene HymanAntoine Jeter
Pamela LinkerBarrie LevyShanterra McBride
Lori McIntyreStephanie MeyerShelley Neiderbach
Noelle NelsonJeanine PirroEdna Rawlings
Barri RosenbluthDiane ScriccaSuzanne Stephens

We give special thanks to our agent, Rita Rosenkranz, for her belief in us, for nurturing our project from the beginning, for her brilliant editorial suggestions during the proposal stage, and for continuing to give us her skilled advice and unfailing moral support throughout the journey.

We wish to thank Deborah Baker, our editor, for her encouragement and for her commitment to bringing the issue of dating violence to the attention of parents of teenagers and preteens. We appreciate her insightful editing; it was Deborah who, in many stories throughout the book, detected and articulated the recurring theme of "Beauty" trying to save the "Beast" with her love. We also send our thanks to her always gracious and helpful assistant, Allison Powell, and to the other members of the Little, Brown and Company staff involved in this project.

Vicki Crompton

I thank Bonnie Campbell, director of the Violence Against Women Office under the Clinton administration. Bonnie reached out to me with compassion and understanding when my grief was raw. Most important, she listened to crime victims nationwide, turning our words into action.

I'm grateful to my coauthor, Ellen Zelda Kessner, for writing the first national magazine piece about dating violence, with Jenny's story as the main focus, and for her continued dedication to the issue. I cherish the friendship we have developed and the shared experiences we have had as two mothers who lost daughters.

Finally, I want to recognize the love and support of my family: my parents, Joan and Mac McAdams; my children, Kate Crompton and Steven Tetter; and my husband, Greg Tetter. They are the people who sacrificed their time with me over the years as I traveled to one high school after another, who supported my wish to return to school for my master's degree so that I could more effectively counsel crime victims, and who took a backseat to my many victim advocacy activities. Most especially, I send my love and thanks to Greg. From the moment he found Jenny dying on the floor, he has devoted himself to protecting me and supporting my efforts to survive the tragedy. He willingly picked up the pieces and ran the household when I was unable to; he stayed behind and parented the children when I was speaking. He is content to be "the wind beneath my wings." He is my hero.

Ellen Zelda Kessner

I want to thank my coauthor, Vicki Crompton, for her constant inspiration and friendship. Vicki and I became linked by a confluence of events. After writing the story of my twenty-eight-year-old daughter Sheryl's murder for Woman's Day, I was assigned by Red-book to write an article about teenage girls who were murdered by their boyfriends. As both bereaved mother and writer, I attended a national conference of Parents of Murdered Children, where I met Vicki — in deep mourning for her daughter Jenny, whose sixteenth birthday celebration would never be. During our long telephone conversations, we became a mini support group, emotionally drawn into each other's life, and I found myself sharing Vicki's mission to educate the public about teen dating violence. It has been an enriching experience.

I want to give thanks to my family — my daughter Deborah In-dursky and her husband, Jerry, and my son, Neil Kessner, and his wife, Sandi, for their encouragement. Special kudos go to my husband, Fred, for all his love and support throughout the years, for keeping me supplied with reams of paper and ink cartridges, for driving me to mid-Manhattan in rush-hour traffic to arrange interviews for this book, and for giving up our weekends together when I was in "lockdown" at my computer, meeting deadlines. And our grandson David gets special mention for keeping his "gramps" company at restaurants and movies during those weekends. I am also grateful for the encouragement of our other grandchildren — Sam, SarahBeth, Alyson, Leah, and Evan — who I hope will someday use the information in this book to develop healthy relationships of their own.



IN THE EARLY 1980s, as a prevention specialist in the movement to end violence against women and children, Barrie Levy spent a great deal of time in California classrooms defining rape, sexual abuse, and battering as crimes against women — as experiences that girls might encounter when they grew up. To her astonishment, Levy learned that many girls as young as twelve and thirteen were already encountering those crimes with their teenage boyfriends.

Yet two decades later, there is still some of the same lack of awareness in the general public. Reviewing twenty contemporaneous studies, Lynn Phillips, professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research in New York City, authored The Girls Report: What We Know and Need to Know About Growing Up Female. The findings show that violence against women is still considered an adult problem, although many young girls have been experiencing sexual violence, battering, and harassment earlier and earlier in teen relationships.

As psychologist Karen Harker of the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition points out: "Our society does not show healthy relationships. One in three adult relationships are violent. These are the models that the teenagers are viewing — as well as those in the media." How did American relationships become so violent?


Violence toward women dates back centuries. "Throughout Euro-American history, wife beating enjoyed legal status as an accepted institution in western society," writes psychotherapist Susan Weitz-man in "Not to People Like Us": Hidden Abuse in Upscale Marriages.

When John Adams was attending the Continental Congress in 1776, his wife, Abigail, wrote to her husband, whom she addressed as "Dearest Friend," a letter that would become famous: "In the new code of laws, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more favorable than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of husbands."

But John Adams and other well-meaning men were no more able to free the women than they were the slaves. When the founders of our country signed the Declaration of Independence, their own wives were still, in every legal sense, their property. Upon marriage, a woman forfeited the few rights she had, and her husband owned her just as he owned his horse.

Laws have changed since colonial times, but marriage has continued to trigger territorial notions, a sense of immediate ownership and entitlement. To some men, the marriage license is a "hitting license," in the words of Murray Strauss of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

"Any sense of spousal abuse as a criminal and immoral act only came into awareness in the late-nineteenth century, spurred primarily by the advent of the women's movement," writes Dr. Weitz-man. The first wave of the women's movement, however, was focused more on a woman's right to vote than on her right to live her life free from violence.

American culture continued to reinforce the notion of male authority; men were supposed to be dominating and controlling. Even in nonmarital relationships, men within Western culture were socialized to conceive of their partners as their property. A man's home was his castle, and he was master of his wife — or his "woman." It was only recently that the criminal justice system stopped supporting that notion.

Why doesn't she just leave? was the question asked in the 1920s, when women did get the vote and the subject of battered wives arose once more. Back then, experts believed that a battered woman stayed in an abusive relationship because she didn't know any better; her intelligence was too low; she was always kept "barefoot and pregnant." And besides, she must be doing something to make him so upset.

At midcentury psychologists theorized that women stayed with violent men because they were masochistic and enjoyed being beaten. In addition, the "makeup sex" afterward had to be great! The name that became famously associated with this type of neurotic, but earthy, female was "Stella-a-a-ah," brayed out every night as a mating call by the hunky abusive husband, Stanley Kowalski, in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire.

The second wave of the feminist movement came in the early 1970s. This time, women identified domestic violence for what it was: a significant social and health problem in America and a crime that they had to fight — with education and lobbying. In the 1990s, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, and many states have gradually started enforcing strict legal sanctions against the perpetrators.

Swept away in the cultural backlash against feminism that gathered momentum in the 1980s was the ideal of the sensitive male, in touch with his feminine side, and the strong, independent woman dressed for success. These ideals were replaced by the ultramacho guy, "in touch with his inner swine," as one magazine editor put it, and the supersexy girly-girl in her tiny skirts and stiletto heels. These retro images have been revived and dressed up in new, ever-tighter clothing and are gaining wider and wider acceptance, with many teen girls and boys eager to try them on.

Barrie Levy finds that the teen gender roles are often defined in extreme and stereotypical ways, the male totally dominant, the woman unnaturally passive. "Young men and women — afraid of being labeled 'different' — may not have the flexibility to be themselves. For example, fearing the stigma of homosexuality, adolescents may behave in ways that seem exaggerated to prove their heterosexuality."

"The message to boys in high school is: 'You're so strong, she's hot…. Why haven't you had sex with her yet?'" says Emiliano de Leon, a children's advocate. "When boys are sexually active with their girlfriends… they have more control and a sense of ownership."

"Not only are boys learning that they must be in control, but girls are learning that boys are supposed to be in control. So girls are looking for controlling boys," observes therapist Barri Rosenbluth.

To add to the confusion, evolutionary biologists are popularizing the "scientific basis" for male aggression.


During the past decade, teen dating abuse has become even more of an equal opportunity evil — almost. It cuts across race, class, age, ethnic roots, educational background, and income. The only area of discrimination is sex. Ninety-five percent of victims of violence are girls.

On August 1, 2001, the New York Times noted on its front page a report that 20 percent of high school girls have been physically or sexually assaulted by someone they were dating. This survey, cited as the "most comprehensive to examine dating violence among adolescents, ages 14 to 18," was done by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

What was completely left out of the "most comprehensive survey" was the most pervasive — and what some girls find the most devastating—aspect of violence: emotional abuse. Most experts define dating violence or battering as a "repeated pattern of actual or threatened acts that emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually hurt another person."

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention point out, when threats and emotional or verbal aggression are included in the definition of dating abuse, the figures rise to 65 percent — a number confirmed by the most recent National Teen Relationship Violence Survey conducted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. For a majority of teens, abuse has become a "dating fact of life."

Other researchers working in the field of domestic violence estimate that one girl in three, of junior high, high school, and college age, has had a physically violent dating or relationship experience — being pushed, kicked, stalked, thrown from a car, or even choked — an experience she is less likely to reveal to her parents than sex.

It is difficult for many of us who have never experienced violence in our marriages or when we were dating to realize the power of today's "junk culture," as psychologist Mary Pipher calls it, a culture that stresses supermacho, aggressive role models for young men and weak, submissive ones for young women. In our postfeminist society, many of us, strong women ourselves, are often astonished to discover that once our accomplished daughters reach their teens, they can find their self-esteem only through the eyes of a boyfriend empowered to destroy it. And they never know it's happening until it's too late.



Emotional Abuse

"EMOTIONAL ABUSE ABSOLUTELY predominates in unhealthy teen dating relationships," says Karen Harker, who has worked with abused women and teens for almost twenty years.

Like Karen Harker, I meet girls after each school presentation I give who come forward to describe the various kinds of emotional assaults they have suffered at the hands of their boyfriends. Until the signs are pointed out, they are usually not even aware that they have been abused.

Verbal cruelty frequently exists alone, but it is always a component in sexual and physical violence. Experts agree that even if a girl has not experienced the other forms of battering, she will be deeply damaged by emotional abuse. Her family and many of her close friends will notice marked changes in a girl's bearing, changes that will have a ripple effect on everyone around her. In this chapter, we will explore the dynamic of emotional battering and its many facets.


How does love turn to abuse? "The relationship with an abusive boyfriend usually begins on a heady romantic note, with high emotional intensity. He is Prince Charming, immediately smitten," says Dr. Edna Rawlings, professor of psychology at the University of Cincinnati, who specializes in abusive relationships in her private practice. "There's an almost-too-good-to-be-true, too-loving quality about him. He starts out by being seductive and charming — completely involved in everything wonderful about her. The girl is flattered. She finds him exciting and interesting."

Maria Fedele was sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school in an upper-middle-class rural area in New Jersey when she fell in love with another sophomore, who was two months younger than she was. "Mr. Popularity," she describes him, "handsome, athletic, a member of the wrestling team. He spoiled me with roses, jewelry, and dining out. Everyone in school thought we were the ideal couple. But little by little he started controlling me."

He began with clothes: "Do you know that if you wear that skimpy skirt, guys will look at you?" He would insist she wear a pair of baggy jeans. "These look good on you, right?"

Maria, whose Italian-French ancestry shows in her exotic looks — dark eyes, olive skin, and brown hair flowing down to her waist — always preferred clothes that outlined her tall, slender figure, but she did not want to anger him. She would nod and put on the baggy jeans. He was always "right." And he would invariably say: "I love you, you know that."

But Maria's clothing compliance would not stop her boyfriend's mounting accusations that she was trying to attract other boys.

"He'd be ranting and raving if I wasn't home from school as soon as he thought I should be. He couldn't believe I missed the bus." Her simple hello to a male friend, his best friend, would bring on his "how can I trust you" speech. Her tears would follow, then his apology with a red rose and a quiet dinner in a restaurant, where he chose her "favorites" for her from the menu. With dessert came his "sparkling look — the perfect gaze for getting his Friday night way, the way to my bedroom."

"Everything was always my fault," Maria says. "The issue was trust." The cycle of her apologies and tears, his apologies, roses, and jewelry would repeat. So would his passionate declaration: "It's only because I love you — you know that."

"Under the guise of love, the abuser is a 'master of manipulation,'" says Dr. Rawlings. "If a girl has no experience with love, ultrapossessiveness feels like love."

As Maria tells her story, certain words and phrases resonate with me from Jenny's relationship with Mark Smith: handsome, popular, considered the ideal couple in school. And of course there are the roses. They appear and reappear in many of the girls' stories. They have come to represent a potent symbol of apology for abuse. I refer to them as "deadly roses," because Mark had sent roses on several occasions. In my ignorance at the time, I thought: How exciting, how romantic! I had no idea that those roses were an attempt on his part to get back into Jenny's good graces. Whenever I hear "He sent roses," I sense a chill up my spine.


Although Ryan Lawrence* was her second boyfriend, never once during the thirteen months they were dating did eighteen-year-old Deirdre Weigert* realize she was in an abusive relationship. Handsome and charming, twenty-three-year-old Ryan was a welder at a Long Island aircraft company who played basketball on weekends. Deirdre, a sparkly-eyed girl with a Julia Roberts smile, was proud to have him escort her to her senior prom; they were deeply in love, and Ryan told her that he wanted to marry her.

But after three months of what seemed a "perfect relationship," Ryan became possessive and obsessive. He began his pattern of abuse by giving Deirdre a "makeover," insisting she wear different clothes and less makeup. More troubling was his constant calling and grilling her on her whereabouts. "If my beeper went off in my purse and I didn't hear it, when I checked the messages later I was afraid to call him back because ten minutes had gone by," says Deirdre. "He'd say I was lying about where I was, that I was with another guy, not my girlfriends, that I was a 'whore,' a 'slut.'

"He was jealous of all my male friends — even of my ex-boyfriend, who had died in an automobile accident. He took down all the pictures of the guys in my house."

But despite his excessive jealousy, controlling behavior, and humiliating name-calling, Deirdre did not realize that she was being abused. After all, Ryan had never hit her. Dr. Rawlings points out: "If the batterer can control a person through emotional, that is, psychological violence, then there's no need to hit."

"I wanted to believe we were happy," says Deirdre, "though we were fighting four out of seven days of the week. But he loved me."

Dr. Noelle Nelson, author of Dangerous Relationships, explains: "Ryan did not show Deirdre that he loved her just because he said the words. Not when he was removing pictures of her friends; that wasn't love, that was control, possession. He wanted her all for himself. Either her or death."


At the core of an abusive relationship is the need for one person to have complete power and control over the other. The use of power and control begins with what often does not seem like abuse but morphs into more and more abusive behaviors. I visualize the dynamic of dating abuse as an ever-expanding spiral with power and control at its center. The Power and Control Spiral — with some of the major emotional elements highlighted for this chapter — is illustrated on the accompanying page (page 22).

Emotional battery takes many forms:

Remaking Her: He plays Pygmalion; he instructs her on how to think, dress, and act, what to read, what movies and TV programs to see, what music to listen to — all for "her own good."

Everything I wore I had to check with him, making sure it was okay. For my senior prom, I desperately wanted this black strapless gown, and it looked great on me. Instead, I got this silvery sheath that I really didn't pick out. He did. "I want you to wear it," he said, and I did.

Noelle, age 17

Asserting Male Privilege: He exhibits traditional supermacho behavior by "showing her who's boss"; he treats her like a baby, his property, or a servant; he makes all the decisions and sets all of the rules in the relationship; he is the one who defines the male and female roles.


He had … chauvinistic friends. They thought, The worse you treat a girl, the better they like it. "If they won't submit, force them into submission."

Natalya, age 16

Humiliation: He uses put-downs, verbal attacks, mind games (he makes her think she is going crazy), and manipulation; he makes her feel worthless — as if no one else would want her; he embarrasses her in front of people, makes her feel guilty, and stands her up.

He was always playing head games with me — saying we'd go to the mall one night, then not showing up and blaming it on me, calling me a "crazy bitch" because, he said, he told me he was seeing friends that night.

Marci, age 17

Denying, Minimizing, Blaming: He makes light of his put-downs, tossing them off as a joke; he maintains abuse never happened; he shifts the responsibility for his abusive behavior to her, saying that she provoked it or she was abusive too; he tells her everything wrong is her fault.

I had one guy friend who saw how my boyfriend was insulting me at a party and took him aside and told him to stop it. He said he was only kidding— it was all in fun. But my friend mentioned other things I had told him that he did to me. My boyfriend said: "She's making it up, she's crazy," but my friend saw how embarrassed I was at the party — he saw the abuse for himself.

Rosa, age 16

Intimidation (More subtle than outright threats): He keeps checking up on her or stalking her, yelling at her; he has his friends check up on her; he drives in a reckless way; he destroys her possessions; he induces fear by using looks, actions, or gestures; he smashes things, abuses pets, and displays weapons.

Sometimes he showed me his guns. Once he even pointed one at me. "Just playing," he said. "It's not loaded." But I kinda got worried.

Amber, age 15

Isolation: He uses jealousy and possessiveness as signs of love or to justify actions; he accuses her of cheating on him; he isolates her from her friends, family, and favorite activities; he controls what she does, whom she sees, where she goes; he limits her outside involvement, monitoring her with constant phone calls, beepers; he interrogates her about whom she's talking to.

He was jealous of my friends. He was jealous of anything that interested me. He was even jealous of my aunt. He was jealous of my music, thought I was practicing too much.

Kimberly, age 16

He would come to my high school. One day, when he saw a guy — not a boyfriend, just a guy — walking next to me, he got so jealous, he ripped up my bookbag

Tadyce, age 15

If I had plans and he was not aware of it, there was always a fight. He had to control me down to the point where I was only spending Christmas morning … with my family. The rest of the time, I was with his family.

Ilona, age 15

He followed me after school; he wouldn't let me go to a friend's birthday party. He called all my friends sluts.

Cheryce, age 17

When a girl refuses from the beginning to be isolated, as Jenny did her abusive boyfriend may try another approach, integrating himself into all aspects of her life, as well as her friends' and family' lives. Mark "adopted" Jenny's friends as his own and would join her and other girls in group activities, such as roller-skating and water sports, and would "show up" at the malls and the pizza parlor. He even turned up, uninvited, at our family reunion!

At first, Joe was very clever. He befriended Marci's three younger brothers, helping them with their basketball game, constantly doing "the right thing." But when it came time for graduation, Marci said she didn't want a party, because Joe wanted her just to be with him. We ended up having one anyway, but it was a struggle. She spent a lot of time worrying about talking to her friends and not being with Joe.

Pat, mother of Marci, age 17

Coercion and Threats:


On Sale
Sep 3, 2007
Page Count
272 pages