Sunday, July 14, 2024


Panel Focuses on Teen Domestic Violence

By James Lomuscio

The film clips were quick but deeply disturbing. All choreographed control and abuse under the banner of love, an abuse on track toward becoming teen domestic violence. Image
Among participants in the discussion were (-r) Westport Police Lt. Jillian Cabana, Alison Roach, Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC) attorney advocate, and Nicole Dodge, DVCC advocate. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for

Produced by the One Love Foundation, the clips shown tonight in the Westport Library’s McManus Room dramatized the manipulation and coercion present in troubled teen relationships.

Using the line “Because I love you,” the actors justify jealousy over a lab partner, incessant phone calls and texts, and isolating a girlfriend or boyfriend from friends and even family.

In one scene a young man even threatens to smash his girlfriend’s phone because she did not answer.

The scenes shown tonight opened a conversation titled “Healthy Teen Relationships” sponsored by Westport’s Domestic Violence Task Force (WDVTF) in cooperation with the region’s Domestic Violence Crisis Center (DVCC), which has offices in Norwalk and Stamford.

About 25 persons attended the presentation moderated by Elaine Daignault, the town’s Human Services director. Panelists included Police Lt. Jillian Cabana, DVCC Advocate Nicole Dodge, and Allison Roach, DVCC attorney advocate.

“Teens are especially vulnerable to this coercive control,” said Cabana, who co-chairs the WDVTF with Elizabeth Marks. Image
The film clips were quick but deeply disturbing. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for

A main reason — first loves are difficult to navigate, panelists agreed.

“The novelty of a first love makes you fall into this trap,” Dodge said.

Cabana said even some adults with life experience “take seven times of leaving before they are out for good.”

More sobering than the clips were statistics that Daignault released that showed in 2015, Westport Police responded to 91 domestic violence-related calls. She cited statistics showing a 10 percent increase in high school students who have been hurt physically by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Asked if the statistics could be attributed, in part, to modern popular culture, including concerns of violent films, song lyrics and a societal sense of entitlement, Marks and Cabana each said no. Both agreed relationship abuse has been going on since the beginning of relationships.

“There is really no profile of an abuser,” Roach said, adding that abusers often “create a great persona,” whereby no one would suspect him or her of being an abuser, and the victim winds up buying into it.

A woman who said she is a psychotherapist said that oftentimes teens who abuse mimic their parents “subtle ways of abusing each other.”

She gave the example of a girl, who when confronted by her parents about their concern about an abusive boyfriend responded, “Dad, that’s exactly what you do to Mom.” Image
Westport Human Services Director Elaine Daignault moderated the discussion. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for

“It happens more often than not that children are acting out what they see,” the psychotherapist said. “We have to be more cautious about how we act in front of our children.”

Two of the questions that the mostly reticent, half-dozen teenage girls present anonymously posted on the screen showed the harsh reality of the problem. One girl asked if she could make an anonymous complaint to the police. Another asked what to do if she were hit.

Cabana explained that a situation need not turn violent before the police can be contacted. Stalking and harassment, which can lead to a court-ordered restraining order, are examples.

Roach gave the example of parents’ concerns after witnessing a possessive boyfriend “drive by the house five times in one day.”

Daignault said that parents, who are paying their children’s cellphone bills, should exercise their right to ask for the phones to see if harassing texts or phone calls have been received.

Cabana added that teens in troubled relationships should reach out to their parents, adult confidants and close friends.

And friends who see their friends being abused in even subtle and verbal ways should not hesitate to speak their piece, even if it means risking the friendship, she said.

“Wouldn’t you like to have a best friend who doesn’t talk to you but is still alive?” Cabana asked.

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