Senior Gabriella Kreuz recently learned that strength is not defined by staying silent through a struggle, but by letting her pride go and asking for help.
What happened to Kreuz is what happens every year to nearly 1.5 million high school students who are in physically abusive relationships and might not recognize it.
Kreuz is using her experiences to make a difference in the John Carroll University community, promoting awareness of such a big problem in our society, teen dating violence.
At 17, in her first relationship, Kreuz experienced abuse that began with controlling behaviors and eventually spiraled into physical abuse. It ultimately ended in a physical altercation that resulted in her abuser being kicked off campus and put under a restraining order.
JCU’s Violence Prevention and Action Center pointed Kreuz to a support group through Cleveland’s Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center to help her deal with the lasting effects of her abuser’s actions.
Through this group, incredible support from her friends and family, plus spiritual help from Campus Ministry, Kreuz was able to get back on her feet and focus on the things she loved doing most.
Kreuz recently began dominating in cross country and track like never before. This past semester, she became an All-American and broke six JCU indoor track records.
“I’ve always loved running and been a hard worker, but my physical strength right now is mostly a result of the spiritual and emotional working out I did during the off-season,” Kreuz said. “A lot of that I owe to the DVCAC.”
Kreuz started to use her athletic success as a platform to spread the message about the dangers of teen dating violence, and how it is a much greater epidemic than many people realize.
Near the end of January, Kreuz was inspired to start a fundraiser to raise awareness about teen dating violence. She created hundreds of orange wristbands with the slogan “Love Doesn’t Shove” on them to sell around campus during the month of February, which is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.
Kreuz also started sporting orange socks – the color of teen dating violence awareness – at meets during February, and some of her teammates followed suit.
“It’s very much a Gab thing to do,” head track and field coach Dara Ford said. “She wants to let as many people as possible know that domestic violence is something that a lot of us hold secret and it doesn’t need to be. That’s just Gab, trying to do good in the world.”
The fundraiser has been a huge success. In just four days of selling the bracelets, Kreuz sold over 200 and made over $500, receiving huge support from the athletic department, varsity sports teams, Campus Ministry and the student body.
All the proceeds will be donated to the DVCAC.
Kreuz has also aimed to raise awareness through her social media accounts. On Valentine’s Day, her biggest social media success took place when she tweeted: “JCU!! RT if u support healthy relationships free of physical, emotional & verbal abuse. #lovedoesntshove #loveisrespect.” The tweet garnered a response of 156 retweets and 50 favorites.
“She’s a great representative of her team, John Carroll and her generation,” Director of Athletics and Recreation Laurie Massa said. “Her success as an athlete might provide her opportunities and put her in a great position to affect change.”
While Kreuz has been more than happy with the feedback she has received from the “Love Doesn’t Shove” campaign, she wants to make sure people understand just how widespread relationship violence is amongst young people.
“The thing about the fundraising that bothered me is that I reached a ton of people, but I still don’t think they are informed on the issue,” Kreuz said. “I still don’t know that those people would walk away knowing the true reality of what constitutes teen [dating] violence.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence, girls between the ages of 16-24 have the highest rate of partner violence. The Surgeon General’s office reported that domestic violence injuries are the leading cause of injury to women – more than muggings, rapes and car crashes combined.
In relationships that result in teen dating violence, the male is usually the aggressor (86 percent of the time, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics: Family Violence Statistics), but females can be aggressors too. And this abuse does not just have to be physical; emotional, sexual and verbal abuse all constitute dating violence as well.
Kreuz stressed the importance of keeping an eye out for “red flags” that could be the initial warning signs of an abusive relationship.
“People don’t always see or acknowledge the early ‘red flags.’ It’s important to spread awareness and inform people because they might not realize the reality of the situation until it’s too late,” Kreuz said. “There’s a lot of mental manipulation that goes on. I feel like I’m a smart girl, but I got reeled in just like so many young people do. I assumed I was in the wrong all the time. But I learned there’s nothing you can be so wrong about that you deserve to be assaulted by somebody who claims they love you.”
Kreuz said some of the core dynamics in an abusive relationship revolve around jealousy, control, isolation, possessiveness, intimidation and blaming, and it’s important to recognize those warning signs early on.
She emphasized that abusive relationships often leave the victim feeling as though they are the one at fault.
Teen dating violence is a very serious issue, but people like Kreuz can, and have, made a difference.
Post-fundraiser, Kreuz’s plan is to create a website for “Love Doesn’t Shove” and ideally turn it into a nonprofit endeavor to raise awareness.
Kreuz plans to detail and share her own personal account – and welcome others to tell their stories – along with other information on dating violence to help people to get a more relatable picture of what domestic violence looks like.
She also hopes to create a petition to advocate for a course on family violence to become a part of the core curriculum, because of how many people experience some form of domestic abuse.
“Her efforts to spread awareness about teen dating violence after being a part of that takes a lot of empathy and shows a lot of courage,” Massa said.