Talk to your kids about youth relationship violence, survivor says

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Talk to your kids about youth relationship violence, survivor says

Crystal Rose Hurlbert says in her early teens, she found herself entangled in a long-term relationship with an abusive boyfriend. Now, as a mother, she is determined to teach her own children about the warning signs.

"They don't have to know I was sexually abused. They don't have to know I was physically abused. Maybe one day I'll tell them the whole story," Hulbert said.

What she wants is to help them avoid going through a similar experience.

Hurlbert says at age 13, she had a manipulative boyfriend.

"My first experience of having sex ever, it was forced on me, and most of the time ... I didn't want to," she said. "He would just have his way with me."

Despite being extremely close to her mother, Hurlbert says she didn't say a word.

"He actually stopped me from going to my mother and guilted me and threatened me," she said.

Two years into the relationship, an incident did push Hurlbert to tell her mother what was going on.

"He was just so mad, he took the butt of a baseball bat and dragged it through the gyproc of the wall, and he had beat up his dad," she said.

'I'm in too deep'

"I was sitting in his room in the basement, crying on the phone, whispering to my mom, 'How do I get out? How do I get out? I don't know what to do, I can't get out,'" she recalled.

"That made me realize, 'Oh my God, I'm in too deep.'" 

Hurlbert says once she did get out, the youth stalked her and continued to call her all hours of the day and night.

That experience is long behind her, and Hurlbert is now in a healthy relationship.

She's married and has two children: Malcolm, who is almost three, and Margaret Rose, who is eight weeks old.

Abuse verbal, before becoming physical

Hurlbert and her husband often discuss how they'll approach the topic of relationships when their children are older.

"I think that's really important: to teach our kids that abuse starts a lot of the time verbally, and then it can manifest its way, down the road, physically," she said.

Hurlbert said once her kids are in the middle years of elementary school, she'll start to tell them about some red flags.

"The second someone starts telling you to keep secrets: that's one red flag. There's keeping secrets that are innocent about someone's birthday present, but keeping a secret that someone's abusing you ... that's not a good secret to keep."

Women Aware

Hurlbert says it would also help if schools would teach students about the cycle of abuse.

She did not recognize it when she lived it as a teen.

"This individual would be very, very abusive to me, and then [he] would just sweet-talk me and say, 'You don't have to tell anyone. I'm sorry I lost my temper.'"

Women Aware, a non-profit group founded by survivors of domestic violence, offers support to people trying to leave violent relationships.

The group also goes into high schools, when invited, to teach about the cycle of violence and red flags.

"We got very good feedback from the teachers and the students — both boys and girls," said Andri Meades, a math teacher at Westmount High School who was instrumental in having Women Aware speak with grade nine students last fall. 

"A lot of boys brought up issues that tend to get overlooked. People tend to [say] 'boys will be boys' as these platitudes ... not dealing with the way boys actually feel, that boys don't know how to behave, that social pressure tells them to behave one way whereas their opinion tells them to behave another," Meades said.

"There were some really interesting discussions."

Women Aware has also spoken to students at Villa Maria High School, a private co-ed school, where ethics teacher Maria Di Scala has developed a wellness program that includes teaching students about healthy relationships.

She says many students are eager to open up, especially after hearing June Michell, the founder of Women Aware, share her personal experience of being in a violent relationship. 

"They ask her questions about friends, and I do remember a few instances of students asking their friends to ask questions for them, not wanting to reveal that they themselves have been in or are in difficult situations," Di Scala said.

'It could happen to anyone'

Creating those opportunities for kids to open up is key, says Hurlbert.

That's why she'd like to see more schools offer education about the cycle of violence and why she says more parents need to talk to their kids about it too.

"It could happen to anyone and you need to bring it up," she said.

"Maybe your kid is not being abused but maybe they're a confidant to someone who's in an abusive relationship" and if your kids know how to recognize it they're in a better position to help a friend seek help.