The text messages to the 22-year-old Virginia woman arrived during the day and night, sometimes 20 or 30 at once. Her ex-boyfriend wanted her back. He would not be refused. He texted and called 758 times.
In New York, a 17-year-old trying to break up with her boyfriend got fewer messages, but they were menacing. "You don't need nobody else but me," read one. Another threatened to kill her.
The harassed often feel compelled to answer the messages, whether they are one-word insults or 3 a.m. demands. Texts arrive in class, at the dinner table, in movie theaters -- 100 or more a day, for some.Text messages allow batterers and stalkers to get their message across whether or not their former partner answers the phone. Harassment can be constant and recipients cannot decline receipt of the message if the sender can just switch phones. They can delete messages, but sometimes can't do so without opening the message first. It can be very hard to open a message like this without reading it.
Harassment is "just easier now, and it's even more persistent and constant, with no letting up," says Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University of Virginia, which became the focus of national attention in May with the killing of 22-year-old lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
Police have charged Love's ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, also 22, with first-degree murder and allege that he removed her computer from the crime scene as he fled. Police were investigating whether Huguely sent Love threatening e-mails or text messages.
Batterers also use text messages to monitor their victims' whereabouts.
In Rockville, a woman in her 20s was so closely tracked that her partner insisted that she text him photos to prove her whereabouts -- each with a clock displaying the time, says Hannah Sassoon, coordinator of Montgomery County's domestic violence response team.On the flip side, saving the messages can help a victim get a criminal warrant for threats or file a restraining order. Judges are more likely to grant such protections if the victim can provide proof of harassment or threats.
Katalina Posada, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, says one of her friends is frequently texted by a jealous boyfriend. "It's like the 20 questions a parent would ask," she says, adding that she finally told her friend: "This isn't right."
In the case involving the 22-year-old who received 758 messages from her ex-boyfriend -- all unanswered -- the harassment led to stalking charges and a protective order, Kirkland says.It's very important for parents to educate their children about domestic violence, and for adults to share information about warning signs with their friends and family. Texting can be very private and others may not know about threats or harassment until it is too late.
That's why it's so important to make yourself available to friends or family members who may be experiencing domestic violence. Do not judge their choices but instead let them know that you are supportive of them but that you fear for their safety. Abusive partners will often try to isolate their victims from their support systems. If you let a woman know that you are there for her no matter what, she may be more likely to share threatening or worrisome text messages with you. You can then let her know how serious this behavior is and encourage her to reach out for help.
In a recent survey, nearly one in four of those ages 14 to 24 reported that partners check in multiple times a day to see where they are or who they are with, and more than one in 10 said partners demanded passwords, according to a survey by the Associated Press and MTV.
One challenge is that many teens do not view excessive texting as a problem and may not recognize abusive behaviors. "If you're getting 50 messages an hour and you want 50 messages an hour, that's not a problem," says Marjorie Gilberg, executive director of Break the Cycle, which works to end dating violence. "But if you're getting 50 messages an hour and you don't even want one, that's very different."
These sorts of topics are addressed through a teen help line called Love Is Respect and several national awareness campaigns, including MTV's effort on digital abuse, A Thin Line, a joint effort on digital dating abuse called That's Not Cool and the initiative Love Is Not Abuse.
In California, Jill Murray says her cases have included a 16-year-old whose ex-boyfriend paid four friends to help him text when he was asleep or at work. "It was like psychological torture."
Murray urges parents to pay more attention to their children's texting lives, checking to see how many messages they get, at what hour and from whom. "Parents don't know this is going on whatsoever," she says.