The audience sits in silence. Every face is grave with wide eyes. Each person is shocked and overwhelmed to hear the story of a girl. This girl was stabbed about 60 times by her ex-boyfriend Mark when she was only 15 years old in Bettendorf, Iowa, and the story was told by her own mother.
Vicki Crompton-Tetter stood in front of an audience of about 70 people. She looked strong and confident as she gave every detail of her daughter, Jennifer Crompton’s relationship with her boyfriend. With such grace and determination it was a shock to all to learn she is the mother of a murdered child. Crompton-Tetter has become a dating violence expert. She’s been a speaker at schools, on Oprah and the Today show, and even co-authored a book “Saving Beauty from the Beast.”
“My grieving was overwhelming and now I’m an advocate,” she said.
Her strategy for her outreach at SAU was different from usual advocate and awareness speeches. She relied on few facts and statistics, and instead won over the audience with the real deal. She opened the listener’s eyes by putting a face to the problem of dating violence and the consequences. Her daughter was killed in 1986. Crompton-Tetter says one in four people were in an abusive relationship at that time. She says the numbers aren’t getting any better. Today, one in three relationships revolves around physical abuse, and one in two are in emotional abuse.
She urges people to recognize redflags in a relationship. Crompton-Tetter goes quiet for a while and lowers her gaze. She softly says they never expected this to happen, but that now she sees there were definitely red flags in their relationship. Jennifer kept many aspects about the relationship a secret. She says the main thing was control.
“Mark’s behavior was, 'I own you,” she said. She says the relationship started like puppy love.
“It was just so innocent,” she said. She tells the audience there was secrecy in the relationship that turned dangerous. Mark was 18 years old and the couple lied to her parents because they knew they would not approve. Crompton-Tetter says the lies all began when she first met him. He controlled what she wore, when, where, and who she was friends with, and called her house and visited very frequently. Her daughter decided to break up with him after being fed up with his behavior. Mark would often break into their home and her locker after they broke up.
“In the later months of the relationship he started to stalk her,” she said. It only got worse. He eventually broke into Jennifer’s cousin’s house and stalked her while she was at her friend’s house. Her daughter found a note on the door one day after school warning her that she would not make it to homecoming. All of these things, she kept from her parents and told her friends instead. Crompton-Tetter says she never found out about any of this or his behavior until Mark’s trials.
“I also learned from her friends later on that at school he used to walk with his hand on the back of her neck,” she said shuddering by the thought. After Mark murdered Jennifer he was arrested three days later after the police found his footprints. He was on trial four months later and was convicted of first degree murder. In Iowa, that is the life sentence with no parole.
Crompton-Tetter suffered PTSD after the murder. She told her audience about the very long process she emotionally went through to heal from the loss. She says she struggled with the idea that all those around the victim also suffer and that it wasn’t fair because they too are innocent.
“We are the ones that suffer because we have to fight and get back on track,” she said. Crompton-Tetter revealed the murder poisoned her family. It affected her young children emotionally and her home. But along her way of healing she found caring for victims of dating violence a relief. She’s an advocate now telling Jennifer’s story and fighting for victim’s rights.
She now strives for dating violence prevention because she says she is always uneasy even when justice was being served.
“I felt a sense of hopelessness because we were seeing arrests but no one was healing,” she said. She says bringing awareness should be a priority. Only one third of teens know where to get help. Only a quarter of schools have education on dating violence, and only three percent of these relationships are reported to the police.
She goes on to give the warning signs of a troubled relationship and urges those who find themselves in one to end the relationship. She says there are three kinds of abuse: emotional, verbal, and physical. If the person is calling, texting, and moderating you too much this is a warning sign. If they are insulting you constantly, this is also a sign. She says the most common thing she hears victims say they are told by their partner is that they are fat, ugly, and stupid, and they are lucky to even have them because no one would ever have them.
“You need to get away if you are in a relationship like this. You need to end it,” she said. Her speeches have not only helped victims speak out on their situations but abusers have also found benefits. She says they often thank her afterwards.
“They say, you’ve just described me and I don’t want to be like that,” she said. At the end of her speech just before the room bursts into applause her voice is shaky, her eyes glisten, and lips quiver.
“I just hope her story saves lives,” she said.