Cell Phones, Computers 'Electronic Leashes' in Abusive Relationships, Experts Say

By Aleena Shakeel | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Five years ago, Kendrick Sledge found herself in a relationship that turned sour. At 14 years of age, she started dating a senior who very quickly became "possessive, controlling and manipulative."

"I had to talk to him every second of the day," recalls Sledge, whose parents limited her Internet use to 30 minutes a day and didn't allow her a cell phone.

Her boyfriend convinced her that she was his "angel" and said if she ever left him he would go back to his drug habit. He wanted to buy her a cell phone so he could keep track of her. She refused.

Soon, the emotional abuse turned physical. He held Kendrick down in a car, kissed her violently without consent, and then slammed her head in the car door. Occasionally, he punched her, saying he was "joking around" but leaving visible bruises.

Sledge's friends and family interfered, but she shut them out. Finally, she broke up with him over the phone, because she was too scared to do so in person. After the breakup, he continued sending her unwanted emails.

Living in fear, she decided to look for support. A search for resources brought up nothing but the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, which she figured wasn't for her.

"I felt all alone, like no one understood what I was going through. Had I had a resource, I might have gotten out earlier," she said.

Sledge was speaking at the launch in Washington D.C., of a new, 24-hour national web-based and telephone helpline for teens.

A joint project of the National Domestic Abuse Hotline and clothing retailer Liz Claiborne Inc., the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline aims to help teens experiencing dating abuse. Teens and parents anywhere in the country can call or access the website for confidential and immediate help by trained advocates.

"When we first started doing research on the level of teen dating abuse two years ago, we were struck by the fact that teens were not telling adults that they were experiencing abuse," Liz Claiborne representative Jane Randel told Cybercast News Service.

"They were talking to their friends -- other teens who were often the most ill-equipped to help. That is why this ... hotline is such an essential resource," she said.

New research carried out for Liz Claiborne by the survey company Teenage Research Unlimited showed startling results.

Nearly one in four teens aged 13-18 in a relationship communicated with their partner via cell phone or text messaging hourly between midnight and five in the morning, the research showed.

One in three teens say that they are text messaged between 10-30 times an hour by a partner inquiring where they are or who they are with. But 67 percent of parents whose kids were going through this are unaware of the situation.

"We had no idea how staggering the results would be when we set out to measure if technology influenced the frequency and severity of teen abuse," Randel said.

"These really are like electronic leashes," Dr. Jill Murray, a psychologist with expertise in teen dating violence, said of cell phones and computers. "It is a means for abusers to abuse, intimidate, or threaten their partners all hours of the day."

Rep. Juanita Millender-Mcdonald (D-Calif.) spearheaded the passage of resolutions in the House supporting a National Teen Dating Violence and Prevention Week for 2006 and again in 2007.

"No one is paying attention to our teens, not even some of their parents," said Millender-Mcdonald. "This is an issue and yes, it is an epidemic."

(The toll-free hotline number is 866-331-9474. Website: www.loveisrespect.org)

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