When it comes to violence within a relationship, or after a breakup, the word that does not come to most people’s minds is “teenagers.” We instead think of high school sweethearts, first crushes, first dates, dances and prom nights. Those are all very nice, but another reality exists in the shadows. A reality of physical and emotional abuse, assault & battery, rape and even murder.
It isn’t a pretty picture. And one major reason people (read: parents) shove it out of their realities, is that they can’t conceive that their kid could possibly engage in this kind of behavior. It’s the same reason that most parents don’t address bullying or admit to their kid doing what he or she is accused of. “Not my little Johnny”; “My little Janie would never do that” is the denial that controls. And for the historically or geographically challenged, denial is not a river in Egypt.
Violence in teenage relationships transcends communities, and socioeconomic strata. It can also happen in both heterosexual as well as homosexual relationships. For the same reasons that it occurs in adult relationships, it also occurs in adolescent relationships: Jealousy, ego, rejection, insecurity, control – as well as the more malignant reasons of mental illness and psychosis. Alcohol and drug use can be factors as well, just as they can when violence punctures adult relationships.
As a Wrentham Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I’ve seen examples of adolescent relationship violence all too often. Here in the Greater Boston area, this was brought home all too clear last year, with the murder of 18 year-old Lauren Dunne Astley of Wayland, Mass., by Nathaniel Fujita, also 18. Fujita is accused of slitting his ex-girlfriend’s throat and strangling her to death before dumping her body in a marsh. Prosecutors in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office allege that Fujita then tried to hide the evidence of what he had done. The pair had dated for about three years, but young Astley had broken up with Fujita, and he reportedly could not handle it – so much so that Fujita’s mother reportedly approached Lauren to ask her to talk with him.
Lauren’s friends have reportedly told investigators and prosecutors of very troubling and disturbing signs in the relationship, both during and after. These included one incident where Fujita angrily punched a tent post at a party, almost bringing the tent down.
Out of this horrible tragedy, has come something positive: A flashlight. Maybe not a floodlight quite yet, but a light to illuminate the dark truth behind teenage relationship violence. Meaning – for the most part – the fact that it even exists. Because too few people – especially parents – care to believe that it does. And by the way – it’s not only boys who can be aggressors and use violence: The problem of school bullying has made it plainly clear just how violent and cruel girls can be. Sorry, people, but the old rhyme, “Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice,” just doesn’t cover the truth any more. I’m in court all the time. The number of teenage girls that I see charged with violent crime is stunning, and in some courts pretty nearly equates to the number of male defendants.
This coming Saturday, October 26, CBS-TV’s news magazine “48 Hours” is using this tragic story to bring light into the shadows of teenage violence following the breakup of romantic relationships. The program will air at 10:00 PM EDT. This will be an important program to watch. It will likely have value far beyond the “typical” crime story, because, hopefully, it will open people’s eyes to the existence of this problem. Hoping to maximize viewership for the show, CBS is also promoting it on its radio outlets. Aside from this Saturday’s broadcast, this program should be copied and played in very high school across America.
My advice as a Boston Massachusetts criminal defense attorney: Watch this program. Then watch your kids.