Celeste LaCour-Belyn grew to love the young man her daughter Leigh dated throughout high school.
“He was very nice, someone that you wouldn’t have a problem letting your daughter be with,” said LaCour-Belyn. “I don’t know what made him snap.”
On Aug. 11, 2011, Leigh’s then ex-boyfriend shot and killed the 18-year-old New Albany girl in her own home.
Leigh fell victim to teen-dating violence, which Chrystal Alexander of the Ohio Family Violence Prevention Center (FVPC) defined as an unhealthy relationship that can last a lifetime.
“It’s anything that is demeaning and will lower the other person’s self-value,” explained Alexander, the FVPC’s program director. “A lot of times you’ll see it morph into physical violence…hitting, slapping, pinching. There are a lot of different things.”
Abuse isn’t always physical. Other types include name calling, belittling accomplishments and even using technology. Since devices like cell phones make us accessible at all times, abuse can come in the form of constant contact, like incessant texting or 30 to 40 phone calls a day.
To teens, however, these signs of abuse aren’t always clear.
“Teens will confuse constant contact with ‘Wow, they must really love me and care about me,’” said Alexander. “But that’s really that person’s way of controlling them.”
LaCour-Belyn recalled that although Leigh and her boyfriend’s relationship was a little rocky, she didn’t realize just how rocky it had become until it was too late.
“He became controlling,” she said. “She didn’t see it, and neither did we. Any time you feel your daughter or son is being controlled, you need to talk to them. Ask them what they like and don’t like about the person they are with. Then you work on it together. It’s all about communication.”
Alexander shared that teens often are reluctant to share their relationship concerns with their parents for fear of being penalized for something beyond their control. In that case, it’s important they have another adult, like a guidance counselor or teacher, with whom they can also entrust the information.
“We need to be very careful that we’re showing a healthy example for our children about what relationships should be,” Alexander also advised. “I can’t emphasize enough the power of voice, and making sure they know they have a voice and that they can use it.”
Teens can use that voice to access resources like the FVPC and The Center for Family Safety and Healing. Even the State of Ohio is working to keep youth safer. In 2010, two Ohio laws were modified to include the topic of relationship abuse, and both revisions were named for young Ohio girls who were killed by someone they had dated. The Shynerra Grant Law allows teenagers to obtain protection orders, and the Tina Croucher Act requires that school policies and curriculum address dating violence.
LaCour-Belyn has spent the last year making her mark, creating Leigh’s Legacy Foundation as a way to prevent dating violence through advocacy and outreach. Currently, the foundation has been working under Strategies Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE), a local organization that deals with youth violence (find out how to donate to Leigh’s Legacy Foundation at saveforyouth.org). LaCour-Belyn spreads her message and her daughter’s story at various events and festivals. But she doesn’t want to stop there.
“I don’t want to stay only (at) a local level,” said LaCour-Belyn. “I want it to reach a higher level. I don’t want Leigh’s passing to go unnoticed.”