I recently had the opportunity to attend a powerful panel discussion at CBS News regarding an important topic involving today’s teens. While cyberbullying has finally become part of school curriculums, there’s a growing danger among teens that’s been on the rise in record numbers – dating and break up violence.
This Saturday, October 26 (10:00 PM, ET/PT) Tracy Smith and 48 HOURS report on a special investigation into the rise of dating and breakup violence among adolescents in an episode entitled “Loved to Death.”
This emotional episode shares the story of Lauren Astley, a popular teenager from Wayland, Mass., looking ahead to starting at Elon University in the fall. Lauren’s ex-boyfriend was Nathaniel Fujita, a star football player with a football scholarship to Trinity College. They had a tumultuous relationship with a pattern of breaking up and getting back together. But as their senior year was ending, Lauren had broken it off for good. By all accounts, Nathaniel struggled coming to terms with the breakup. Nathaniel’s mother was so worried about his post-breakup behavior she took him to a psychiatrist. Among Lauren’s friends, their relationship was discussed on social media.
Lauren secretly visited Nathaniel to see how he was doing. The meeting proved fatal for Lauren.
In a short time, a life was lost and two families were shattered forever. Along the way, their names were added to the growing and startling statistics on dating and breakup violence. Researchers estimate that one in three young adults between the ages of 14 and 20 has experienced some form of dating violence. “Of teenagers who are in abusive relationships, 3% will tell an authority figure, 6% will tell a family member, but 75% will tell a friend – that’s why we focus on kids,” former Middlesex County, Mass., District Attorney Gerry Leone tells 48 HOURS.
At the panel discussion that took place this week in New York City, 48 HOURS Senior Executive Producer Susan Zirinsky shared why it was so important to share Lauren’s story. “When someone has been through a personal experience that issue resonates so much more with somebody hearing their story and looking at themselves and saying maybe something like that can happen to me,” says Zirinsky, who shared that the issue of dating violence can happen to anyone. “It is the reality of living in a different time and place and the pressure is enormous. Seemingly normal kids will snap under that pressure and this is one of those stories,” she adds.
Reporter Tracy Smith, who covered this important story for 48 HOURS added, “This is an issue that’s been out there for a long time but adults haven’t taken it seriously.” Smith says that oftentimes parents chalk up their kids’ relationship troubles to “teen drama” but she adds, “it’s gotten more complicated now that it’s online.” She adds, “The other thing that’s changed is the signs we used to talk about were very obvious ones. The signs can be very subtle. There are subtle signs that someone is in a relationship that could be violent. And we are taking it more seriously. We’re talking about it more and it’s due in large part to the courage of parents like (Malcolm Astley) who are coming forward to share their stories.”
Malcolm Astley was courageous enough to share his painful story with 48 HOURS, revealing how his daughter’s death impacted his life. “I’m a gatherer of information and I got catapulted into this arena,” says Astley, who has made it his mission to educate parents and young people about the dangers of dating violence while lending his support to programs like Futures without Violence that counsel adolescent boys on how to effectively deal with their emotions.
Smith adds that dating violence “is a crime that has no zip code. It’s urban, suburban, and rural. A relationship ends and what happens is an emotional surge of uncontrollable anger. It can be verbal, physical and sometimes, as in the case of Lauren Astley, it can end in death.”
Smith and 48 HOURS report on Lauren’s rollercoaster relationship with Nathaniel, their breakup, and what led up to her brutal murder, through interviews with their friends, police investigators, prosecutors, Nathaniel’s uncle and Lauren’s parents. The broadcast also provides critical information parents and young adults need to know about the warning signs of dating violence and how not to become a victim. The broadcast features several Massachusetts high school programs, including a dating violence awareness club and Mentors in Violence Prevention aimed at helping teens recognize the signs of a healthy and unhealthy dating relationship.
48 HOURS: “Loved to Death” is produced by Marcelena Spencer. Kathleen O’Connell is the development producer. Mead Stone and Bruce Spiegel are the producer editors. Claire Anderson is the field producer. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Susan Zirinsky is the senior executive producer.
Chat with members of the 48 HOURS team during each broadcast on Twitter and Facebook.