Date violence isn’t as hidden as we think — important warning signs can be noticed plain as day.
It can be seen in public humiliation of a partner, a girl withdrawing from her friends, or a boy obsessed with a girl’s online behavior.
“It’s not just a punch in the face,” says Cpl. Sarah Bilmer, Violence in Relationships and Missing Persons Coordinator for the Serious Crimes Unit. She’s been speaking to Chilliwack high school students about the warning signs of dating violence, the risks of ignoring those signs, and how to help if abuse is suspected.
Up to half of teenaged girls report experiencing violence in a relationship, according to Kids Help Phone. Girls who are abused in a teenaged relationship are also more likely to be abused as adult women.
In her role with the RCMP, Bilmer is an educated and experienced voice on all types of domestic abuse and violence. Each year, she chooses a different target audience to focus on. This year, she’s chosen to educate youth in relationship violence. Bilmer has been to high schools across Chilliwack, Hope, Agassiz and Aldergrove, with a calendar filling up for more events.
But she’s not doing it alone. She reached out to a few friends of a high-profile murder victim from Surrey, Maple Batalia. Batalia was a 19-year-old SFU student when she was stabbed and shot by her ex-boyfriend, who is now serving 25 years in prison. They had been a couple since high school, and as her friends say in retrospect during their talks with students, the warning signs were there.
“When I was trying to come up with a presentation to bring awareness of healthy relationships, I knew I wanted it to be relevant to youth, that it would resonate with them,” Bilmer says. “It’s much more meaningful to hear this from your peers, and they agreed to come on board and give a talk. They talk about some situations that happened and the warning signs, and how they wish they could have done things differently.”
Batalia was murdered in 2011, and it’s taken a long time for her friends to process her death.
“When I approached them, they said it was good timing,” Bilmer says. “They told me ‘we feel ready,’ and that it feels like they are making a positive out of something that was so horrendous.”
Bilmer also reached out to filmmaker Jasleen Kaur, for permission to show the film tells the story of Batalia’s murder. While it’s a tough story to learn about, it’s an important one, she says.
“We are trying to get peers more engaged in not being a bystander for violence,” Bilmer says.
So what do friends watch for?
“Some of the biggest ones are stalking, jealous, obsessive, controlling behavior,” she says. “Wanting to look at a phone, at text history, watching what they’re doing on social media, showing up at her work, or being parked outside of house to make sure they’re in their room when they say they are.”
It’s not just a matter of watching for jealous boyfriends, but angry ex-boyfriends, too.
“You could have a partner threatening to harm or kill themselves, making fake suicidal comments,” she says. “And that’s a big warning sign, if someone is willing to kill themselves, they have reached a low point and may be battling depression.”
She says to also watch for a victim who is a really fearful of their partner, who changes their behavior when their partner is around, or starts to isolate themselves from friends and family.
“They will isolate themselves from whoever doesn’t support the relationship, and then that’s the only person who they have a relationship with,” she says.
“Those are all the really big ones,” she adds.
But some may notice a larger, very common, pattern of violence. It starts as all relationships do, with a honeymoon phase. This is when flowers are bought and love is in the air. But in an abusive relationship, tensions build up as the victim tries to appease their abuser. Eventually violence breaks out. And after that, there are apologies and excuses, and the honeymoon phase begins anew.
Bilmer wants youth to be aware that unhealthy behaviors, like uttering threats, are criminal behavior.
“Things like ‘If you break up with me I’m going to kill your cat,'” she says, along with mischief, or breaking a cell phone so it can’t be used, keying a car or breaking a window, stalking and excessive phone calls.
“It’s about putting fear in the victim,” she says, and that can lead to criminal charges. “It’s not just a punch in the face. If you feel fearful, your ex is showing up at the coffee shop every day where you work, that can be harassment.”
But what can be done?
Talk to who you feel comfortable with, Bilmer says.
“Involving some sort of adult is a good first step,” she says. “Maybe it’s a counsellor, or your own parents, the police, the school principal.”
While they want everyone to eventually call the RCMP if there is violence or abuse taking place, it’s also important to support the victim and let them know they don’t deserve it.
“Let them know they have all these other people who care and love them, so they’re not feeling alone and isolated.”
To book Cpl. Samara Bilmer for a talk with youth in your area, call the Chilliwack RCMP detachment at 604-792-4611, or email her directly at email@example.com.
To learn more about dating violence, signs, and what to do, visit the RCMP’s dating violence page.