Teen's Murder Raises Awareness of Dating Violence

Filed under: In The News

The murder of an 18-year-old woman in Massachusetts has many talking about what happens when dating becomes deadly.

The body of Lauren Astley was found July 4 in Framington, Mass. Police arrested her former boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita, believing he slashed her throat after she broke off their relationship.

Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone tells CBS News the murder was a classic case of teen dating violence. "This case, like so many other paradigms, is about control and about power," he tells CBS.

James Allen Fox, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, tells CBS he also sees a depressingly familiar pattern in the still-unfolding drama.

"Unfortunately, far too many males have a view that this is their right to maintain a relationship that's broken down," he says. "It's the old 'if I can't have you, no one can.' It's the obsession with the relationship, that 'I can't go on without you.' There's a sense in far too many men that they want to re-establish control."

Fujita allegedly stabbed Astley, wrapped bungee cords around her throat and left her body in a marsh. He pled not guilty to the murder charges. Astley had been missing for a day before her body was discovered.

Astley and Fujita were graduates of Wayland High School in Framington and had been dating for three years before prosecutors say Astley ended the relationship.

Searching Fujita's house, police allegedly found blood in the garage and a blood-stained bungee cord. Blood was also reportedly found in the kitchen and the bathroom.

More forensic evidence -- including bloody sneakers and other clothing -- linking Fujita to the murder was found in a crawlspace in his bedroom.

Just last month, the U.S. Department of Public Health and Human Services and the U.S. Surgeon General included a Violence Prevention Strategy for the first time in their annual National Health Policy Strategy. It came out three days before Astley's death.

Vladimir Albin Jr., a youth team coordinator for the Boston-based domestic violence advocacy support group Close To Home, tells the ABC News affiliate in Boston that the majority of teenage dating violence goes unreported or under-reported.

Because there are so many different kinds of abuse and because teenagers have less experience in romantic relationships, he says, a victim may not realize a relationship is abusive or abnormal.

"They're not always aware that what they're experiencing is teen dating violence," Albin says.

Few incidents go as far as murder. Nonetheless, the Boston Globe reports an estimated 1 in 3 high school relationships involve some sort of physical, emotional or sexual abuse.

"It's a common problem, in city, suburbs and rural communities," Emily Rothman, a domestic violence researcher at the Boston University School of Public Health, tells the Globe. In Massachusetts alone, she adds, where some 1 in 10 teens have experienced physical violence in a relationship.

Many parents are reluctant to talk to teens about how to protect themselves, Rothman tells the paper. "We learned years ago that the right time to start talking to kids is before they're in a relationship," she says.

Parents should start teaching about healthy relationships from preschool on -- from the moment brothers start pushing each other or nursery school playmates pin a girl down for a kiss, Rothman tells the paper. "Adults need to promote the idea that kids shouldn't be violent or controlling with anyone, that everyone deserves respect in any kind of relationship," she says.

Parents also need to make teens aware of warning signs in a relationship, she adds. These extend beyond slaps, pinches, pushes, punches and beatings. "Insults and humiliating put-downs can also be a sign of abuse," she tells the paper.

Control and jealousy can also rear their ugly heads in the form of constant texting or phone calls to check up on a partner's whereabouts, or pressure to withdraw from other relationships with friends or loved ones.

"These are emotionally abusive behaviors, but they can be just as damaging and just as restricting," Rothman tells the Globe.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.