Monday, February 6, 2012

Article: Vigil remembers El Toro student killed by boyfriend

LAKE FOREST – A candlelight vigil held Friday in memory of an El Toro High graduate killed by her boyfriend and other victims of teen dating violence drew nearly 200 teens and parents to a parking lot in front of the Laura's House Resale Boutique.
The vigil in conjunction with Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month nationally was sponsored by the Ladera Ranch-based Laura's House, a nonprofit group focused on stopping domestic violence.
Recent studies have found that one in four high school students, boys and girls, are in physically abusive relationships and that nearly 80 percent of girls who have been physically abused continue to date their abuser.
"Teen dating doesn't begin with a slap, punch or kick," Marissa Presley, a bilingual prevention and education specialist told the crowd. The abuse spiral "starts with 'Shut up,'" she said.
"Teens are brutally beaten, put-down, degraded and hurt by boys or girls who are supposed to love them," she said.
Presley talked about the cycle of violence. The first component is the initial tension, when the abuser is moody and short-tempered and the victim "walks on eggshells." Second is the explosion, which can include breaking or throwing things or physical abuse. Third is the "honeymoon" stage of reconciliation, which doesn't last.
"The first 72 hours (after) a break-up is when homicide happens," Presley said. "In Orange County, 80 percent of parents don't think teen dating violence is a problem."
Among those remembered Friday was former El Toro High student Jacqwelyn Joanne Villagomez, a 19-year-old aspiring model who met John Needham, a 25-year-old Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Villagomez, in accounts on a memorial Facebook page, said she thought she could save him.
On Sept. 2, 2008, police reported that Needham beat Villagomez to death in his father's condominium. Needham later died of unknown causes while awaiting trial. In Villagomez's memory, her friends donated money to Laura's House and have remained involved with the organization. Her family attended Friday's vigil.
Survivor advocates such as Morgan Berschauer, current Miss Laguna Hills Teen USA, spoke about enduring abuse in a nine-month relationship. She said she felt unsure about dating him at first, but listened to friends and family who said she should give him a chance.
Later into the relationship she was called names and was controlled, she said. She said she was also financially abused.
"I always had to pay for things, like eating and movies," Berschauer told the crowd. "One time I forgot my wallet and he said, 'Why did you do that?' and got upset."
The event, the second annual, also promoted Laura's House's H.E.A.R.T. – Healthy Emotions and Attitudes in Relationships for Teens. Each year the group provides its H.E.A.R.T. program to more than 3,000 Orange County teens at local high schools, junior colleges and other youth facilities.
The program helps teens become educated on healthy relationships and appropriate conflict resolution skills. Laura's House also has a website designed to assist teens who are seeking information on healthy relationships.
Berschauer has started a H.E.A.R.T. Club at Laguna Hills High.
"Anyone can be a victim," Berschauer said. "It happened to me. I want people to know it's OK to ask for help. You should not be afraid of your boyfriend or girlfriend."
Teens can visit They can also become a fan of Laura's House on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter and learn more about its programs through videos posted on YouTube and podcasts on

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