Editor’s note: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, women ages 16-24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate violence - 20 per 1,000 women. To bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence, the Empire-Tribune is featuring stories of local women who have been victims of abuse. Their names have been changed to protect their identity. A special thanks to Cross Timbers Family Service for their assistance in this series.

By SARA VANDEN BERGE Managing Editor

It was every girl’s dream.

An attentive boyfriend. Flowers. Candy. Kind notes and professions of love.

Even the jealousy was cherished. It showed, after all, that he loved her —cherished her in a way that no one ever had.

“It was a fairytale romance,” Ashley said. “It was something every girl hoped for.”

But in the end, the fairytale turned into a nightmare when the boy she was dating turned out to be a not-so-charming-prince. Even worse, he turned out to be a violent abuser who tortured her both mentally and physically.

Today, Ashley, which is not her real name, is telling her tale.

“There’s not enough emphasis placed on teen violence,” she said. “I want people to know that this can happen to young girls.”

Ashley’s story began when she was a 16-year-old junior at Stephenville High School and began dating a 19-year-old dropout. What he lacked in ambition and education, he made up for with charm and attention. From the beginning, Ashley was smitten, drawn in by a young man who convinced her that his obsessive need was only love. Four months into the relationship, he began accusing her of cheating and of hiding things from him.

“I thought it was normal for him to be jealous because he loved me,” she said. “I almost saw it as a positive rather than a negative.”

Then the behavior became more erratic. He began following her to restaurants when she was out with her family.

“He would just show up and demand that I go outside to talk to him,” she said.

Slowly, he began isolating her from friends and family, convincing her that he was the only one who really cared about her.

And she believed him.

Eventually, she began spending more and more time at his house, where he lived alone. She never imagined that his jealousy was about to turn violent.

One day she told him about a pep rally she attended at school that day. When she mentioned talking to one of the football players, he hit her in the mouth.

“I was taken aback,” she said. “And then I thought it was my fault for talking to another guy.”

It wouldn’t be the last time he would hit her. In fact, “popping” her in the mouth became a regular scolding method whenever she would say or do something he didn’t like. Playful fights would turn rough and end with episodes of choking that left her stunned, scared and confused.

He began pressuring her to have sex, and soon after giving in to his demands, that, too, became violent.

“He would choke me and hit me during the (sex) act,” Ashley said.

By the time she was 17, he was burning her with cigarettes, raping, kicking, and shoving her on a daily basis. He even broke her tooth after hitting her in the mouth.

All the while, he never apologized.

“I always thought it was my fault,” she said.

But a chance encounter at a grocery store would reconnect her with her estranged family and change her life.

One day while shopping, she saw her mother. By then, their relationship had become so strained that they hardly ever spoke.

“My mom called my name and said ‘I miss you,’” Ashley said. “She was crying and said, ‘Baby, come home.’”

That was all the convincing she needed.

Ashley walked outside to the parking lot where her boyfriend was waiting in the car and told him she was going home.

But getting away proved difficult.

He would call her house 10 to 20 times a day and began stalking her. When he threatened to kidnap her, her family finally called the police.

Eventually, he moved on and began dating someone else and Ashley was finally able to get on with her life.

She sought help from Cross Timbers Family Services and today, is a 30-year-old mother of two. She is also a student at Tarleton State University majoring in psychology.

“I want to help other women some day who find themselves in similar situations,” she said. “It’s not hopeless - there is help.”

SARA VANDEN BERGE is Managing Editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at 254-968-2379, ext. 240.