She was 17 when she met her boyfriend, and 20 when she died at his hands. In between, Heather Norris tried several times to leave the relationship, which was fraught with control and abuse, before she was killed — stabbed, dismembered and discarded in trash bags.
Her death in 2007 in Indianapolis is one of several stemming from abuse in teenage dating relationships that have spurred states and communities to search for new ways to impress on adolescents — and their parents and teachers — the warning signs of dangerous dating behavior and what actions are not acceptable or healthy.
Texas recently adopted a law that requires school districts to define dating violence in school safety codes, after the 2003 stabbing death of Ortralla Mosley, 15, in a hallway of her Austin high school and the shooting death of Jennifer Ann Crecente, 18, two years ago. Rhode Island in 2007 adopted the Lindsay Ann Burke Act — prompted by the murder of a young woman by a former boyfriend — requiring school districts to teach students in grades 7 through 12 about dating abuse.
New York recently expanded its domestic violence law to allow victims, including teenagers in dating relationships, to obtain a restraining order against an abuser in family court rather than having to seek help from the criminal justice system. Legislators were moved to act after a survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene showed that dating violence had risen by more than 40 percent since 1999, when the department began asking students about the problem.
Although there are no definitive national studies on the prevalence of abuse in adolescent relationships, public health research indicates that the rate of such abusive relationships has hovered around 10 percent. Experts say the abuse appears to be increasing as more harassment, name-calling and ridicule takes place among teenagers on the Internet and by cellphone.
“We are identifying teen dating abuse and violence more than ever,” said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis, who began doing research on abuse in teenage dating relationships nearly a decade ago. read more …