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Sarah’s story: “It still shocks me that even though students saw the assault and my teacher saw the aftermath, when I actively sought help from my school I was turned away.”

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Sarah Van Zanten is a dating abuse survivor whose story shows us why schools need to have dating abuse policies. Sarah was abused by her boyfriend at her school in Palo Alto. After her school failed to respond to a physical assault on campus, her boyfriend’s violence continued and escalated. Eventually it became unsafe for Sarah to continue to attend her high school.

I thought I had it all—as a sophomore I met and started dating a seemingly wonderful football player who couldn’t get enough of me. I was excited, in love, and felt lucky. I would have never thought that my boyfriend would have been capable of kicking me so hard that I slammed into a wall, lost consciousness for almost six hours and suffered two bruised ribs.

In hindsight I realize that there were warning signs that I, at fifteen years of age, naively mistook as signs of love and affection. His constant text messages and desire to be around me were flattering, but also a warning sign of controlling behavior. I now realize that his outbursts of anger followed by sincere apologies and bouquets of flowers were unhealthy. Yet his behaviors were always cloaked in the disguise of love and affection and at that age I had no reason to know that they were not ok.

Unfortunately, his behavior soon escalated into physical abuse. One time, he showed up at school drunk and got mad at me and threw me up against a locker. He grabbed and shook me, yelling that I “would never be able to hide [from him].” He told me he was going to “beat the s— out of me.” Terrified, I managed to run to my classroom—he followed me and slammed the door on me; my teacher ignored the commotion, didn’t turn around and never commented on the fact that I was hysterically crying.

I needed the guidance of my teachers and school staff to help me deal with the scary situation I was incapable of handling. The school only suspended him for two-days for being drunk despite me asking for help and the school knowing that he had been physically violent toward me on campus. I felt scared, confused, and betrayed.

It still shocks me that even though students saw the assault and my teacher saw the aftermath, when I actively sought help from my school I was turned away. If a boy came to school drunk and fought in the hall with a peer, the school would have punished him for the drinking and the violence. I don’t know why they did not handle my case in the same way.

If the school had handled my situation appropriately, I probably would have sought help and spoken with my parents. Maybe this would have given me the knowledge and strength I needed to leave the relationship before I sustained a concussion and bruised ribs.

Eventually, I did talk to my parents. And I sought a restraining order against him. Unfortunately, remaining in an unsupportive school environment was unbearable. I was bullied and threatened by my classmates for having reported the abuse. Ultimately, I transferred schools, leaving behind all that I had known and loved about my high school.

If my school had polices in place to address dating abuse when I was assaulted and threatened at my school, I would have received the proper attention I needed.

Sarah Van Zanten is a dating abuse survivor whose story shows us why schools need to have dating abuse policies. Sarah was abused by her boyfriend at her school in Palo Alto. After her school failed to respond to a physical assault on campus, her boyfriend’s violence continued and escalated. Eventually it became unsafe for Sarah to continue to attend her high school.
  
I thought I had it all—as a sophomore I met and started dating a seemingly wonderful football player who couldn’t get enough of me. I was excited, in love, and felt lucky. I would have never thought that my boyfriend would have been capable of kicking me so hard that I slammed into a wall, lost consciousness for almost six hours and suffered two bruised ribs. 
In hindsight I realize that there were warning signs that I, at fifteen years of age, naively mistook as signs of love and affection. His constant text messages and desire to be around me were flattering, but also a warning sign of controlling behavior. I now realize that his outbursts of anger followed by sincere apologies and bouquets of flowers were unhealthy. Yet his behaviors were always cloaked in the disguise of love and affection and at that age I had no reason to know that they were not ok.
Unfortunately, his behavior soon escalated into physical abuse. One time, he showed up at school drunk and got mad at me and threw me up against a locker. He grabbed and shook me, yelling that I “would never be able to hide [from him].” He told me he was going to “beat the s— out of me.” Terrified, I managed to run to my classroom—he followed me and slammed the door on me; my teacher ignored the commotion, didn’t turn around and never commented on the fact that I was hysterically crying.
I needed the guidance of my teachers and school staff to help me deal with the scary situation I was incapable of handling. The school only suspended him for two-days for being drunk despite me asking for help and the school knowing that he had been physically violent toward me on campus. I felt scared, confused, and betrayed.
It still shocks me that even though students saw the assault and my teacher saw the aftermath, when I actively sought help from my school I was turned away. If a boy came to school drunk and fought in the hall with a peer, the school would have punished him for the drinking and the violence. I don’t know why they did not handle my case in the same way.

If the school had handled my situation appropriately, I probably would have sought help and spoken with my parents. Maybe this would have given me the knowledge and strength I needed to leave the relationship before I sustained a concussion and bruised ribs.

Eventually, I did talk to my parents. And I sought a restraining order against him. Unfortunately, remaining in an unsupportive school environment was unbearable. I was bullied and threatened by my classmates for having reported the abuse. Ultimately, I transferred schools, leaving behind all that I had known and loved about my high school.
If my school had polices in place to address dating abuse when I was assaulted and threatened at my school, I would have received the proper attention I needed.
 

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