Gary Cuccia: Look for dating violence warnings
I talked to my daughter, Demi, 16 minutes before she was murdered. I didn’t know she was in danger, and I don’t think she did either.
Demi had just turned 16. She was a cheerleader at Gateway High School, and the light of my life. She was about a year into her first relationship, with her brother’s best friend. John was a fixture at our house — for years. We thought we knew him well, and we trusted him.
But what we didn’t know is that Demi felt like he had become too controlling, so she decided to break things off. After she did, he got desperate. He sent her hundreds of texts, pleading to just see her again so they could talk about it, face to face. Demi was a strong and independent young woman, and she thought she had things under control. She agreed to let him come over that night, knowing she’d be home alone and they would have some privacy to talk. But he brought a knife with him when he walked into the living room. He stabbed her 16 times before turning the knife on himself. She made it out of the house, but she died in the arms of a neighbor.
When I was a teenager, phones hung on the wall in the kitchen. If an aggrieved ex called the house 10 times in a day, the entire family knew there was trouble. But with cell phones, texts, Snapchat, messenger and Instagram alerts — all on silent — your child can be stalked while sitting next to you on the couch and you might not know it. One in three teens experiences some form of abuse at the hands of the person they are dating — emotional, verbal, physical, sexual — and so the odds are that your child knows someone who is in an abusive relationship, if they haven’t experienced it themselves.
Since Demi’s murder, I’ve spoken to thousands of young people about relationship abuse, and I’ve learned a lot. Teenagers want their privacy and they go to great lengths to keep their parents out of their business; this is normal, healthy even. But most of them don’t know the warning signs, any better than Demi did. They are vulnerable, and they don’t know it. It’s easy to get caught up in the overwhelming feelings of a new relationship. They don’t know that jealousy can be dangerous, especially since it can feel flattering at the beginning. Early red flags of controlling behavior can seem normal — wanting to spend all of your time together; wanting to know everything about you — including where you are, what you are doing, who you are with; checking your phone and social media accounts. I wish Demi had known that the feeling of walking on eggshells is a sign of abuse.
Please share this video with a young person in your life and use it to start a conversation. You can learn more about Demi and her story at www.DemiBrae.com. Review warning signs of abuse together at www.LoveIsRespect.org.