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Nov. 22: Stop the Violence Day...

Girls need power to end unhealthy relationships

By Linda Breazeale

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Girls need support from family and friends to be strong enough to recognize and leave unhealthy relationships.

Lynn Pike, professor of human sciences at Mississippi State University, said the development of an unhealthy relationship is a gradual process. On rare occasions, males will be the victims, but those are the exceptions.

“These relationships usually involve younger girls with older boys. Initially, it will be a positive experience as he takes mental control first with gifts, kind words and actions,” Pike said. “Then he will start taking physical control, possibly telling her where she can go, what she can wear and who she can visit.”

Girls may feel an early social boost by dating an older boy. Family and friends may add to the feelings of self worth connected to the relationship, making the girl reluctant or unable to recognize the warning signs of an abuser.

Pike said the longer the relationship lasts, the harder it is to walk away.

“As time goes by, the girl will have more invested in the relationship. She may have become sexually active before she was ready, she may have a sexually transmitted disease or even be pregnant. Any of those factors can make it harder for girls to leave,” Pike said. “Maltreatment is common in teen pregnancies.”

Pike said research has indicated that 66 percent of pregnant teens were abused at a young age. Thirty-six percent were molested, 42 percent experienced attempted rapes, and 44 percent were raped.

“Education is a key to helping girls avoid bad relationships,” Pike said. “We need to help girls respect themselves and have the confidence to set and maintain their own boundaries.”

Gail McDaniel, domestic violence program coordinator with Safe Haven Shelter in Columbus, said trained counselors from Safe Haven go to schools and college campuses to educate girls on the warning signs of potential abusers. Girls need to know what is normal behavior in a healthy relationship. They need to know that hitting is never OK.

“Abusers will have two or three distinctive characteristics: they will be controlling, jealous and/or self centered. When you see those signs, get away from that person fast. Listen to how he talks about girls. If he tells jokes about them or talks in a disrespectful manner, look out,” McDaniel said. “Parents need to be aware of the risks and watch and listen for warning signs.”

Some of the warning signs parents or friends may see include bruises, withdrawal from normal friendships, less personal communication or greater attention to pleasing the boyfriend, even if it means doing what she would not normally want.

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Released: Nov. 10, 2005
Contact: Dr. Lynn Pike, (662) 857-2284

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