- Associated Press - Friday, April 3, 2015

SYCAMORE, Ill. (AP) - Katie Rajterowski looked out her window shortly after midnight one night last summer and her heart sank.

Kavoisia D. Thomas, an 18-year-old she had broken up with recently over his abusive behavior, was standing in the driveway of her Sycamore home. A few minutes later, Rajterowski, 17, received a text message from him saying that if she didn’t come outside, there would be consequences.

“There were several breaking points, but at a certain point, you just can’t get out of the relationship, and that was the problem,” Rajterowski said recently, brushing aside her tears.

Thomas had posted on Facebook that he planned to kill her, and when others told him to calm down, he replied on Facebook that he was on his way to her home to kill her before committing suicide, according to DeKalb County Court records. Thomas had blocked Rajterowski from seeing his posts on social media, but a friend called to warn her.

She eventually went outside and argued with him over his claims she cheated on him, which she denied.

Thomas was arrested and convicted of intimidation in connection with the incident, and Rajterowski is starting a domestic violence awareness club at Sycamore High School after using counseling services at Safe Passage, a domestic violence and sexual assault agency that serves DeKalb County.

An order of protection prevents Thomas from having contact with her or her family until July 2019.

Experts said that Rajterowski’s experience is alarmingly common in teenage relationships.

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health, almost four in 10 adolescents said they have experienced physical or sexual violence in dating relationships.

It can sometimes be difficult for parents to tell if their teen is in an abusive relationship, said Sarah Slavenas, public educator at Safe Passage. However, behavioral changes such as teens losing interest in hobbies, becoming easily upset, or spending all their time with their boyfriend or girlfriend and no longer hanging out with other friends should all be red flags.

Not that teens will necessarily see it that way, Slavenas said.

“People don’t always recognize that they are in an emotionally abusive relationship,” she said.

When asked if he regrets what happened, Thomas said Rajterowski and her parents didn’t deserve the treatment he gave them. Those who find themselves in volatile relationships, he urged to “think before you do things.”

“If you do something, if you cheat, but don’t cheat on your girl, period,” he said. “Don’t do that. Be honest about everything because when you are honest it’s a better outcome than lying about it. … Just man up about everything, don’t put a lot of (stuff) on Facebook, don’t put anything like that on Facebook. Be respectful to her, because she is a girl.”

Rajterowski first met Thomas through Facebook at age 15. She said at first they got along great, but then he grew jealous of the time she spent with other friends. She said she didn’t want to tell her parents about how he was calling her names and trying to isolate her from her friends.

Although her friends were worried and told her to end the relationship, Rajterowski said they didn’t want to get too involved.

“I kind of talked to my friends about it and some of them just didn’t want to be around it anymore,” she said. “They didn’t really drop me as a friend, but they just kind of stopped talking to me about it because they realized I wasn’t going to change anything.

“But the thing was I wanted to change it, I just couldn’t because I wasn’t allowed to per se. He wouldn’t let me change it,” she said.

Her parents, Lynette and Mike Rajterowski, said they noticed what in hindsight there were warning signs, but dismissed them as things that sometimes happen with teenagers. Lynette Rajterowski said her daughter convinced them that she was happy in the relationship.

“Sometimes, I felt, when I look back, I’m like, boy I was really parenting with a paper bag on my head,” Lynette Rajterowski said. “Because even though I asked so many times: ‘Is everything OK? You know, I have some concerns about this.’ She’s telling me everything’s OK. And then you find out in the end and you’re like, ‘Wow.’ “

Mike Rajterowski said at first, he and his wife felt bad for their daughter’s boyfriend because they were unaware of the situation.

“So our initial reaction was, here is a young kid who just made a huge mistake, let’s make sure he has a future,” he said.

Looking back, Katie Rajterowski said she didn’t recognize early stages of abuse. But getting counseling at Safe Passage taught her to recognize abuse and see red flags early on. Now she said she is able to give advice to some of her friends who face similar problems.

“The domestic violence awareness motto is to ‘break the silence,’ ” she said. “So, that’s what we need to do as teenagers as well, because it doesn’t just happen to adults. It happens to teens.”

Slavenas, who visits classes kindergartners to college level to raise domestic violence awareness and promote resources as part of prevention education, said statistically, one in three teens will experience some form of abuse in their lifetime whether it be emotional, physical or sexual.

Often, this experience carries over into adulthood and can shape a person’s adult life, similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, Slavenas said.

“The relationships that are formed now and the behaviors that are practiced in your teenage, adolescent years, are the ones that extend into your adult life also,” Slavenas said.

Slavenas also emphasizes that there’s no such thing as a typical abuser.

“We see people who are very wealthy, very educated and their partner (is) in our abuse intervention program,” Slavenas said. “We also see people who aren’t, and where alcohol contributed to the issue, where children were around. … There’s no standard face of a batterer or a victim.”

To help teenagers avoid abusive relationships, Slavenas said parents should talk to them about healthy relationship dynamics, while Mike Rajterowski said parents shouldn’t underestimate the potential for abuse in teenage relationships or chalk it up to “kids being kids.”

As for Thomas, he pleaded guilty to intimidation in January, court records show. He served a month in DeKalb County Jail and was released Feb. 6, after being given credit for time served while the case was pending. He is spending a month on electronic home monitoring and serving 2 1/2 years of probation.

The DeKalb County Public Defender’s Office, which represented Thomas in the case, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Katie Rajterowski plans to raise money for operations such as Safe Passage and bring more attention to the issue of teen-dating violence. She said she hopes to use Erin’s Law, which requires all public schools to implement a preventative child sexual abuse program.

“I’m going to use what happened to me to help other people before that happens to them,” Katie Rajterowski said. “I want to use everything that happened to me in my situation to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

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Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle, https://bit.ly/1F4QPDk

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Information from: The Daily Chronicle, https://www.daily-chronicle.com

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