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Sarah Van Zanten, 15, was lying on the floor, an ice pack on her aching ribs.For a moment, she had no idea where she was; then her boyfriend’s face came into focus.They were at a party, and Joe (not his real name), the cute football player she’d been dating, had kicked her, hard, propelling her into a wall, where she had hit her head and blacked out.“I woke up and he was hovering over me,” Sarah, now 18, recalls.“It became kind of a joke—that she was too busy with school and crew.” Sarah kept her doubts to herself. “I think it has to do with being in one of the first relationships of your life. It made me feel loved.” But her parents, Kate and Mark, a computer software salesman, were worried.You don’t really know where to draw the line.” And then there was Joe himself, who followed up his outbursts with fervent apologies and tokens of love, usually bouquets of roses. Sarah, who had maintained a B average, started getting C’s and D’s, and her friends weren’t coming by anymore.That night, Joe called to apologize; Sarah told him it was over.“I was scared,” she says, and her parents forbade her from seeing him again. “I tried to ignore him,” Sarah says, “but there he was on the phone and the Internet. “He was everything.” She began seeing him on the sly, once even crawling out of her bedroom window.
“I came and asked [Joe] to leave; then I gave her a ride home.” Even then Joe followed Sarah out, begging for forgiveness, but she ignored him.According to a Harvard study of 4,163 public high school girls in 2001, nearly 1 in 5 reported physical or sexual abuse in a relationship.