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"He told me he loved me" | Teen dating violence survivor talks about red flags in teen relationships

Dating violence affects one in every three teenagers, making them more susceptible to domestic violence situations in the future.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Emily-Anne Buck thought she met the love of her life in high school. She was 16 years old, and the puppy-love felt so real.

"When we first started dating he was charming, handsome, good at sports, and popular. He had all the friends," Buck said. "He chased me for a while, and what high-school girl doesn't like to feel pursued?" 

When the two started officially dating, their honeymoon phase was both fast and intense.

"He said he loved me within the first two weeks, which kind of scared me but eventually I started falling just as much for him," Buck said.

It didn't start with the red flags of an abusive relationship. However, over the course of the first few months, he became verbally abusive. For example, he would call her names and pick fights about her whereabouts.

"It is so subtle as it grows, that you don't see what's happening to you," Buck said.

Before long, it turned more serious. He would track her, stalk her and call her constantly. If the couple got in an argument, he would show up at her front porch with flowers and handwritten apologies. Buck would forgive, and the cycle of abuse would continue.

The abuse turned sexual when he pressured her into letting him take photos of her. Buck said she repeatedly said no, until one day she gave in.

Her abuser printed the photos and passed them out to peers at school.

"It was such a violation of my body. It was power, control, and cohesion into something I would never have done," Buck said.

It isn't an isolated case, nearly 1 in 5 girls are emotionally abused in a relationship while in high school. Additionally, a quarter of girls will send nude photographs before they reach 18 years old.

"I hurt for these poor girls who think that somebody cares so much for them, that they want to see their naked body. That's so twisted," Buck said.

Apps like Snapchat have made it easier for abusers to ask and obtain images of young girls. 

"It's important for teens to know and for parents to know that if you're being asked for a nude photo, that is not love, that is a violation of your body," Buck said.

In order to end teen dating violence, Dr. David Kitts with the Knoxville Police Department's Special Crimes Unit said teenagers and parents need to get better at identifying the red flags.

"You'll know you're in an abusive relationship when they're extremely jealous, controlling and want to isolate you from family and friends," Kitts said.

Kitts goes into Knox County high schools to talk with ninth-graders about these red flags. He said this age is critical as many of the students are just starting to explore dating relationships for the first time.

"We have to use every opportunity we can to portray what a healthy relationship looks like," Kitts said.

Sometimes, Buck will go with Kitts to share her personal story.

In middle schools, Amy Rowling with the Knox County Health Department also speaks to students about domestic violence prevention.

"A lot of the students think the physical violence is the main aspect, but I teach them that there are many types. In fact, emotional abuse is the main one," Rowling said.

She believes many kinds of dating violence may be starting as early as middle school.

"Some of them are in relationships and you can see them looking around the room, or they'll come up and talk to me afterward to get advice on a situation they're dealing with," Rowling said.

Bucks explained that the most important thing parents, adults and friends can do to help their loved ones is listen to them.

"Do not talk, accept what they're telling you. Do not judge them. Listen and ask how you can help," Buck said.

If you or a loved one is in a teen dating violence situation, the Knoxville Police Department Special Crimes Unit can help. Call 865-521-6336.

The number for the national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

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