October is set aside to bring awareness to domestic violence. When the topic comes up, we rarely hear that the victims are sometimes as young as teenagers. Now, one victim is speaking out to News 4 to try and bring awareness to the issue.
"I found out I had two broken ribs and the doctor said it was really serious and he could have fractured my spleen," said Bethany Thomas, 17, of Washington, Missouri.
Thomas said she was living with her boyfriend when he started abusing her.
"Our relationship didn't start out like that so I'm sure none of the girls realize it's going to get out of hand like that because I sure didn't." said Thomas.
Antwon Oliver, 19, is facing a second degree felony charge for domestic assault.
"At first when he went to jail I was like 'No, I don't want to press these charges anymore. I want to drop them.'" said Thomas.
Police said it is common for victims of domestic violence to change their mind. They also said abuse usually happens several times before it is finally reported. They want victims to know there is a way out, even if they don't want to be the one to file charges.
"If we can get a report and we can talk to the victim and the mom, we can file the report over to the prosecutor," said Det. Sgt Steve Sitze with the Washington Police Department. "We can take action even if the victim is not willing to prosecute."
Cases like this bring to light how common domestic violence is among teens. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of high schoolers who date experience physical or sexual violence.
Thomas said she knows there are girls out there who are afraid to come forward and that's why she is sharing her story.
"I don't want girls to be ashamed of their bruises," said Thomas. "They need to realize there is a better life out there. You just have to take the first step which is getting out of the relationship which is probably the most hardest thing I've ever had to do and I can't imagine how many girls are scared to take that first step."
Thomas has since moved to California for a fresh start. With the help of counseling, she is beginning the healing process, along with the entire family.
"It takes a lot of time to heal," said Kristie Johnson, Bethany's mom. "We realize that we could have lost our daughter. I could not have lived without her. When she tells me she thought she was going to die and she was screaming for help and his friends were in the other room. It's just scary that other teenagers are ok with that, too."
While Bethany encourages teens to recognize the signs of abuse, Johnson has the same message for other parents.
"Pay attention. Get to know the person your child is dating," said Johnson.
Oliver is being held on a $15,000 bond. He is expected in court Monday.
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