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Jenny's Story: Parents Were the Last to Know

October 13, 1991|ROBIN ABCARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dating violence can happen to any adolescent, anywhere.

Jenny Crompton was a middle-class 15-year-old in semi-rural Iowa. She had tried many times to break off her tumultuous relationship with boyfriend Mark Smith, but he refused to let her go. Unbeknown to her parents, he spied on her and threatened her life in notes.

On Sept. 26, 1986, Smith stabbed Jenny 60 times with a butcher knife in her living room. He is serving a life sentence for her murder.

Jenny's family experienced a double tragedy--first the death, then the discovery that the relationship had been abusive all along.

"I read about it in the newspaper," said her mother, Vicki Crompton. "The day of her funeral, I picked up the paper and read that the police had interviewed her friends and I read about the threats that he had made to her and about the abuse. Then at the trial, I heard all the testimony: I knew that he had slapped her and shoved her, but there was also a lot of emotional abuse, written threats. He was watching her and had his friends watching her."

Jenny's story is one her mother tells often, hoping it will help teen-agers recognize and stop the dating violence in their own lives.

Vicki Crompton now spends about four weeks a year speaking about dating violence to adolescents. She says she can always tell by their eye contact which teen-agers are in abusive relationships. The signs, she says, are there.

She recommends that parents of daughters in romantic relationships ask themselves these questions and take these steps:

* Is the boyfriend possessive or does he try to isolate the girl?

"Mark didn't want Jenny to have any friends," said Crompton. "Most girls will cave in, but Jenny was stronger and would not let him take her friends away. So he made her friends his friends. Mark couldn't understand why Jenny would want to be with her family, and we have lots of family time."

* Does he talk about their future?

"Jenny came home one day and said, 'Mark is talking about our wedding !' She laughed about it. She wanted to go to college and live in Europe. She was going to be a career woman."

* Get to know the boyfriend and his family .

"Mark would come to our house and he was totally uncommunicative. I never knew his parents. I saw them for the first time in the courtroom. I heard about a child who had emotional problems since the age of 4. When he was 16, his mother moved out of the house because he was so violent. It was an abusive family situation. I didn't know any of that."

* If you suspect your daughter is in an abusive relationship, talk to the boyfriend's parents.

* Help your child realize she could be in danger.

"The most effective way is to say, 'Listen to Jenny Crompton's story.' Mark was a nice-looking boy, he came from a fairly affluent family, no divorce, and so most people's reaction was, 'He couldn't have killed her.' "

* Help give your child the strength to break up firmly and with finality.

"I find that they say, 'We can still be friends.' That is what Jenny said on my advice, but I realize now you have to say, 'Don't ever call me again,' and the parents can assist in that."

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