On Valentine’s Day 2006, Drew Crecente called his daughter to tell her that he loved her.
It was a normal conversation, nothing unusual stood out in his mind. Jennifer Ann was growing into her own, and sometimes that can be difficult for parents. He asked her to be patient.
A few days later, the Atlanta man was told that his 18-year-old daughter was dead, shot to death by an ex-boyfriend in Austin, Texas, where she lived with her mother.
During their last conversation, his daughter had casually mentioned that the next day she and a guy she used to date were going to look at a car to buy together.
Crecente hadn’t told her to be careful.
He hadn’t warned her not to go.
“It wasn’t even on my radar,” said Crecente, who runs a nonprofit named after his daughter, Jennifer Ann’s Group, formed to combat teen dating violence.
“That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness about this issue,” he said. Teen dating violence “catches people unaware. I want this to be as well known as knowing that you should look both ways before you cross the street. People need to have conversations with their kids. They need to know that this can happen.”
Experts say one in three teenagers experiences some form of dating violence, whether physical, emotional, verbal or sexual.
“It’s quite prevalent, and parents and adults don’t realize the severity of the issues,” said Nancy Friauf, president and CEO of the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. Georgia ranks 17th in the nation in the rate of teen dating violence, she said.
According to one survey, 81 percent of parents said they were not aware of the issue or didn’t believe it was a problem for their children, “and that’s not good,” Friauf said. “Clearly it’s an issue we need to talk about.”
From 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, PADV will host its seventh annual Teen Dating Violence Summit. The event, which is free, will be held at Primerica headquarters, 1 Primerica Parkway in Duluth.
The summit will feature two tracks — one for teens and another for parents to learn how to recognize the warning signs and learn ways to address the dangers.
It will also feature workshops focused on building healthy relationships, demanding and giving respect and empowering teens to make positive choices.
Many times, instances of abuse are kept secret, PADV’s Friauf said. The dynamics are very similar to what happens with adult victims of domestic violence. There are feelings of shame, embarrassment and the victim may feel it’s her — or his — fault.
Crecente said his daughter and her ex-boyfriend had gone to the same schools and lived in the same neighborhood.
His daughter, he said, was the type of person who always wanted to help someone else. As far as Crecente knows, the guy had never threatened Jennifer Ann.
“If he had,” Crecente said, “I probably would have had a different conversation with her.”
To register and for more information, go to http://padv.org/.