National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Dating Abuse

The following blog entry was written by Emily Toothman. She graduated from The University of Texas in 2005.  She is now 26 years old, working as a Program Specialist at The National Domestic Violence Hotline.  In February of 2007, she had the honor of answering the first call to the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline.

I was 19, a student in my second year at college, when I met the man of my dreams in one of my classes.  He was tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and All-American — with a smooth demeanor and a knack for saying all the right things.  He treated me like a princess.  Gifts, surprise visits to my dorm room and classes, frequent phone calls to see where I was and how I was doing.  He told me he loved me within the first month of our relationship, and he wanted to be near me all the time.  On our first anniversary, he surprised me with a candlelit dinner in a house overlooking the lake.  I was living the fairy tale that every little girl is taught to dream.

But then, two weeks after our first anniversary, I found him in bed with an ex-girlfriend.  I immediately broke up with him.  It was only then that I began to truly see his controlling nature.

I started to see him everywhere I went.  He showed up to my classes and sat two rows behind me.  I caught glimpses of him walking a couple paces behind me on campus.  Pretty soon, he started calling my cell phone constantly, leaving up to twenty voice messages a day begging me to reconsider our relationship.  When I started hanging out with other guys, he would follow me and leave threatening notes under the windshield wipers on my car.  My professors started to confide in me that “my boyfriend” had told them about my “drug problem.”

I returned home one evening after going to a meeting on campus, and he was on my doorstep.  He was drunk, and he was angry.  As his anger escalated, he began to shove me around and pin me by my neck against my front door, smashing empty beer bottles against the corner of the building and holding the shattered glass up to my face.  He had simply snapped.  I escaped to a friend’s house an hour later with a broken rib, a sprained wrist, a black eye, and bruises from head to toe.

Following the first attack, I took some self-defense lessons from a friend of mine who was a black-belt in karate.  I stayed with some friends so that I didn’t have to go back to my apartment alone.  I felt like everyone was looking at me, even though I had carefully caked on make-up to cover the bruises.  It took me days to build up the courage to leave the apartment to go to class.  I was terrified, and I felt more alone than ever.  Though I have always been close to my parents, I refused to tell them.  I felt that they would be hurt, worried – or worse – disappointed in how I’d handled the situation.   My friends, though they tried to be supportive, had a hard time even believing what was happening.

A week later, he confronted me again.  This time, he was sober, and it was in broad daylight in the center of campus.  He once again pinned me to the wall, but this time he threatened me with a butterfly knife to my jugular.  Students would walk by and stare, but not one interfered.  I struggled with him for close to a quarter of an hour, and finally, I managed to kick his knee backwards.  It broke.  As he was writhing on the ground, I used my cell phone to call the police.  A week later, he would break bail and leave the country.  I would never see him again.

The experience did change me – sometimes for the worse, but (I hope) mostly for the better.  I had to struggle with fear, anger, depression, insomnia, and even nausea.  I had to mend the breach of trust that my parents felt when they found out about my situation after the fact.  I’ve had to fight to break down my defensive walls, so that I could be less guarded in my romantic relationships and less cautious in my friendships.  It has not been easy.

But — to be completely honest with you – I wouldn’t change a moment of my experience for anything in the world.  It shook me to the core.  It created a passion in me for justice and peace, and it led me down a path that I would have never expected.  It led me here, to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  I will always remember, with the highest gratitude, the role that my experience has allowed me to play in reaching out to survivors.

Dating abuse is a reality for many, many teens across this country — a terrifying, overwhelming reality that is largely hidden and ignored.  I wish that I had known at the time what I know now, thanks to the work of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the loveisrespect, National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: I am not alone.  I am not the only one to have experienced what I experienced, and I am not the only one who has decided to turn those experiences into positive changes for others like me.  I am very honored to be a part of such an amazing generation of young people who will start the conversation about dating abuse, and who will change the realities of young people across the nation.

By Emily Toothman

Please visit  for resources on teen dating abuse or to chat with a peer advocate. If chat is unavailable, call 1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453 TTY. loveisrespect has recently been called on for its expert guidance by the popular soap opera General Hospital for a teen dating abuse storyline. The storyline will air today, Friday July 17th and a PSA will air directly following the program.

National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog

Chris Brown Guilty Plea

The following entry is written by New York Times best selling author and NDVH Celebrity Board member Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Steiner is the author of Crazy Love, a memoir about domestic violence, and the anthology Mommy Wars.  She writes a weekly column for Mommy Track’d.  To share your story as part of the Crazy Love Project, visit the author’s website at

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s proceedings against musician Chris Brown for his alleged Grammy-eve assault of Robyn R. Fenty, more commonly known as the pop singer Rihanna, ended surprisingly gently last Monday given the five-month media frenzy that has surrounded the couple. Brown pled guilty and was sentenced to five years of probation and 1,400 hours of community service ( Rihanna’s silence, however, has baffled and frustrated fans, prosecutors, and advocates within the domestic violence community. The horrific post-assault photo of the 21-year-old’s cut and bruised face, supposedly leaked by the Los Angeles police department, showed bruises across the singer’s face and head. Police statements describe Brown biting Rihanna and repeatedly threatening to kill her (

But Rihanna never called the police. She did not request a restraining order. She did not file a complaint. She did not testify against the man who assaulted her. She has never spoken publicly about the assault.

I understand why Rihanna has been so quiet.

I was sure I loved the man who abused me for four years, a brilliant, troubled Wall Street trader I met on the New York subway a few months after I graduated from Harvard ( The assault that ended our marriage took place nearly 20 years ago, but I too stayed silent because I wanted to protect my abuser, even after I knew he was capable of killing me. I was in shock, terrified, and broken physically and psychologically. Like Rihanna, I wanted the whole ugly mess to be invisible.

We hear a lot about domestic violence’s grim statistics, as we should.  According to The Family Violence Prevention Fund, three women are murdered in this country every day by intimate partners, and over five million women are assaulted each year.  More than 50% of people who abuse their partners also abuse their children.  In the months since Rihanna and Brown dominated the headlines, in my community alone there have been four murders, including two children killed by their father and a 19-year-old girl murdered by her boyfriend.  As a society, we need these numbers as evidence of the terrible cost we pay for tolerating domestic violence in our country and around the world.

What we need even more: to abandon our misguided expectations that it’s up to domestic victims to prosecute their abusers and to speak out publicly about the trauma they’ve suffered.

It is obviously unrealistic to expect batterers to make incriminating confessions. It is equally impractical to require Rihanna or any other battered women, immediately following a vicious assault, to prosecute a lover or family member. It’s bizarre that our society and criminal justice system expect women to do so. Family violence incidents must be investigated and prosecuted by local police and district attorneys – not victims. In order to break the cycle of violence, victims need this kind of aggressive intervention to free us to find our own happy endings.

Like most victims, there was no way I was strong enough to stand up for myself against the person who had seduced, manipulated, and terrorized me for years. The police left without cataloguing my injuries or pressing charges against my husband. Having survived the most brutal attack of my life at the hands of a man I loved, I did not have the ability to absorb what had happened, much less document the evidence and press charges myself. I barely had the courage to file a restraining order; filing charges against my ex-husband was beyond comprehension. Even though he deserved it. Even though I craved protection and justice.

Three years after I left my abusive husband, then-Senator Joseph Biden successfully championed the landmark Violence Against Women Act through Congress.  Nearly $2 billion has been allocated since then to raise awareness of the problems and costs of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual abuse against women; to fund physical, legal and emotional support to victims; and to train police and judicial officers who prosecute offenders. VAWA is up for renewal in 2010, championed by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and a plethora of bipartisan supporters and advocates.

I wish police had treated my apartment as a crime scene the last night I was beaten by my ex-husband, documenting the abuse and pressing charges.  Advocates needed to do for me what I could not do for myself. The pursuit of justice would have benefitted me – immediately — and our society over time by taking domestic violence seriously.

And if police had taken a photo, I’d still have it today — as a harsh warning of the dangers of abusive love.

Right in front of that photo, I’d place one of me now –  smiling, surrounded by my second husband and three young children, without bruises or scars to hide.  Another kind of evidence –  that victims can survive domestic violence and go on to rebuild our lives.  All we need is a little help.