Definition Of Relationship Abuse

By Celestine Aboagye and Joshua Phillips


The HHS Comet recently held a series of informational press conferences with several knowledgeable HHS sources about the subject of abusive relationships. In this, our special “Relationship Abuse” edition, we will be explaining what relationship abuse is, the types of toxic relationships, who they affect, and what can be done to help.

Abusive behavior happens for specific reasons, said Community Educator, Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence Ms. S. Millard. She explained, “Abusive relationships are about control and power, [they are] defined as patterns of abusive behavior in which one partner exerts and maintains power and control over the other.”

Abusiveness also tends to escalate over time when one person psychologically and/or physically mistreats the other partner. Ms. S. Millard also pointed out control is the most pressing part of partner abuse and is the area that will provide the most red flags.

While a common thread is that toxic relationships only occur between intimate partners, this line of thinking is completely fallacious. When asked by the HHS Comet, Ms. J. Millard, HHS Licensed Clinical Social Worker, said, “Toxic relationships are more than just boyfriends and girlfriends, including friendships as well as family ties.”

In toxic partnerships, the victim can encounter verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Being a victim takes a dramatic toll on a person, affecting his or her decision making. “The question often asked is “why would you stay” you shouldn’t ask this because it’s a very victim blaming question,” Ms. S. Millard said.

Anyone can be a victim, so it is also important to understand when someone is an abuser.

An individual tends to become abusive when he or she believes that he or she have the right to the control the person he/she are dating. The abusive partner in most cases believes he or she know best, he or she should be in charge of the relationship, and even think that unequal relationships are ideal.

The abuser first begins acting in a negative way by being psychologically abusive. He or she starts with minor abuse by maybe expecting his or her partner to do something, and then get upset when it is not done; or not done the way he or she likes.

One may ask if an individual is being abused, then why are they still in the relationship?

Secrecy is what allows partner abuse to flourish. It is important to not really hold in secrets but to find someone you trust and can talk to about what is happening. This can prove difficult  because at times people are scared of talking about what is going on in their relationship because they think they might get in trouble with their abuser.

HHS Licensed Social Worker Ms. Ruff from Drop In explained to our reporters how some abusers have narcissistic personalities and are always thinking about themselves. They believe things are always someone else’s fault. They also have a sense of entitlement over anything, and they may tend to be more abusive. They have beliefs that their partner should do what they want them to and they make their partner the culprit.

Ms. Ruff also said, “Abuse is present when there is threats such as I am going to leave you, neediness is more making the person feel guilty”.  

With that being said, victims must also remember that it is never the victim’s fault when she/he is being abused by a partner.

Partner abuse does not have on sole cause. is not caused by alcohol, drugs, or stress it is always the abuser’s choice to be abusive.

If you suspect you are in an abusive relationship seek support. Being comfortable and familiar is not what is always best for us, for it is better to get help then for things to be too late.

As the other articles in our special issue will address partner abuse is a serious matter that deserves respect and attention.

The Signs of Relationship Abuse

By Daniella Smajlaj, Chaiim Singer Barber, Hailey Russo and Damani Eason


There have been many reported cases of relationship abuse among celebrities ranging from Chris Brown and Rihanna to, more recently, Amber Heard and Johnny Depp (The Comet makes no judgement on those relationships). Since many teenagers follow these celebrities and hear accusations of abuse, it’s time for teens to learn the actual signs of being in an abusive relationship.

Relationship abuse often happens because the abuser has a lack of power which causes him or her to need to be more dominating. S/he usually feels insecure and takes it out on the significant other.

Violence in relationships can happen anywhere at anytime, and it just as easily can be obvious or hard to detect.

According to, published online by the Department of Health and Human Services, obvious signs that you’re in an abusive relationship start with one person humiliating the other person, hurting them physically, monitoring their every move time, and/or threatening to use a weapon against them. On the other hand, hidden signs would be discouraging the person from seeing and/or contacting their family, isolating them from going out and even going to important places; such as  work or school.   

According to, published by The National Domestic Violence Hotline, one  in four men have been victims of physical abuse by intimate partner throughout their lifetime and one in three women have faced abuse throughout their lifetime.

Several HHS psychologists and social workers visited the school’s Journalism Class to discuss the topic of relationship abuse. Ms. S Millard, a community educator specialist and Bergen County Alternative to Domestic Violence, also spoke to the class and started off her powerpoint presentation by saying, “One in three high school students are involved in some kind of physical, emotional and/ or sexual abuse.”

 According to, the majority of relationship abuse is committed by men against women in a heterosexual relationship. However, one in four women will experience domestic violence throughout their lifetime. It’s scary to know that one in four women will be abused in their lifetime while one in 71 men would also face abuse in their relationships also.

Mr. Sanchez, an HHS Licensed Clinical Social Worker, was asked, “What is a male supposed to do if he was the one being abused?” He responded, “Males [are] less likely [to] report the situation because of common [gender] roles in a relationship [which is that] a male is suppose to have the power in the relationship and it could be embarrassing and [even] more humiliating more for the guy due to society and gender roles.”

Mr. Sanchez also elaborated by saying, “(the guy) is being emasculated (for not controlling the abuse that) the female (is doing), which is why they would be less likely to report the situations.”

According to the website, 16,800 homicides happen due to abusive relationships while  two million dollars each year is spent medically to take care of victims in an abusive relationship.

So what can people do to lower these rates? Mr.Sanchez, “Bringing it to people’s attention is the first step. Second is discussing the problem and acknowledging the situation and finding strategies. A third step is to look for a person’s reasoning for abuse. Lastly, put something in place so (that) they have an escape plan to get themselves out of that situation.”

What Triggers Relationship Abuse?

By Samantha Alicea and Yasmine Manansala


Abuse is a choice and a learned behavior. Common attitudes of an abuser include sense of entitlement, power and control, belief of getting away with it, and learned experience that abuse gets them what they want. HHS social worker Mrs. J. Millard explained these facts during a recent press conference, adding that “about 1.5 million students experience physical abuse every year.”

An abuser is usually filled with insecurity and mistrust, she said. Abuse can happen at home or in a public area. Either way, it never makes a situation better.

Here are the warning signs, according to Mrs. J. Millard:

Sense of entitlement. The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges). A sense of entitlement complex is linked with narcissism and borderline personality disorder. An abuser holds this feeling/belief that he/she deserves privileges due to his/her personality.

Power and control. Power and control in abusive relationships (or coercive control or controlling behavior) is the way that abusers exert physical, sexual, and other forms of abuse to gain and maintain control over a victim. This is where the victim is being taken advantage of because the abuser is bigger and stronger. As a result, the abuser is able to restrain someone who is smaller and weaker.

“In abusive behavior, one partner exerts and maintains power and control,” said by Ms. S. Millard, community educator from Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence.

Belief in getting away with it. Abusers refuse to believe that what they do is wrong. They continue to physically and emotionally hurt their partner because the victims let them. Abuse in a relationship will continue if the partner being abused does not say something. But remember, help is all around and should be used in order to get out of domestic violence.

Learned experience that abuse gets them what they want. Usually, abuse in a relationship happens more than once. From a previous experience, abusers will learn that their power and control towards their partner can get them to listen to them. After abusing their partner, they see that their power allows them to obey them. This continues if the partner being abused does not say something. Help is all around and should be used in order to get out of domestic violence.

As cliche as it sounds, recognizing you have a problem is the first step to recovery.

While people do have the potential to change, they need the drive to do so. It’s easy for a person to say he or she will change but the key is to commit to all aspects of change which is a lot easier said than done.

Improving yourself shows strength and drive. Recognizing flaws and working towards improving yourself is one of the most admirable things a person can do.

If you think you may be the abuser in your relationship, here are some steps to consider taking:

  • Admitting to what you have done
  • Accepting responsibility for abusive actions/behavior.
  • Making amends
  • Recognizing that abuse is a choice
  • Identifying patterns of controlling behavior
  • Identifying the attitudes that drive abuse
  • Accepting that overcoming abusiveness is a long term choice
  • Not demanding credit for improvements/not being abusive
  • Do not allow improvements to excuse occasional acts of abuse
  • Developing supportive behaviors
  • Changing responses to  anger and grievances
  • Changing reactions in heated conflict
  • Not feeling sorry for yourself about the consequences of abuse or victim blaming

Seeking out support resources can also be a major help in the process of improving yourself and forming healthy relationships. Luckily, there are plenty of wonderful resources in Hackensack such as Alternatives to Domestic Violence, a  24-hour hotline (201-336-7575) where you can discuss any issues, be educated, and get counseling by professionals. Healing Space of YWCA is another 24-hour hotline (201-487-2227) located in Hackensack that provides crisis intervention and individual counseling.

What to do When Your Friend is in an Abusive Relationship

By Jessica Williams,  Alanis Martinez, Natasha Wilson, and Tiffany Jones


Many have heard the story of abuse from a victim’s viewpoint. Oftentimes, the person may already suffer physical, mental, or emotional damage after realizing they were a victim of abuse. Relationships outside of the toxic one, such as friendships, can help the abused leave the abuser sooner, as a friend is more likely to notice signs of abuse quicker than the victim.

The most important aspect in figuring out whether or not a friend is in an abusive relationship is to not jump to conclusions.

According to Dr. Dimitry, a clinical psychologist for HHS, “You can’t call a relationship toxic if you base it on one verbalization. It’s a matter of recognizing a small sample vs. something that happens often.”

For example, if a couple or group of friends have one argument, it would not be considered abusive because it was only one incident. However, if they argue, hit, or belittle one another on a regular basis, it is considered abuse.

Abusive traits may not always be obvious, such as arguing or hitting.  Some of the less noticeable abusive traits may be isolation, a change in clothes, especially if it is inappropriate for the weather, or the constant monitoring of the victim by the abuser.

These actions are a result of the abuser’s need for control in the relationship for his or her own personal purposes.

Ms. Shepherd, a licensed clinical social worker, states that the abuser  “exhibits the personality of a bully. They feel that they have no power, so they assume power over someone who is vulnerable.”

If someone does not have control over what they can and cannot do, then that individual may be in an abusive relationship.

After noticing these signs, wanting to help the friend get out of the relationship may be priority. However, intervening with an abusive relationship can be precarious. Mr. Sanchez, a licensed clinical social worker at HHS, says that you should “find out what the person needs based on their personality to help them. Find out how they feel, what they feel they need.”

The friend may or may not react in a negative way, so you must tread lightly when talking about the subject. It is also good to talk to an authoritative figure such as a guidance counselor, a teacher, or a parent or guardian.

When viewed from the outside, abusive relationships may appear to have an obvious solution. The most commonly asked question to victims is “Why don’t you just leave?” However,  this question is not easily answered.

When a former abuse victim was interviewed by a comet journalist, she stated, “It’s not as simple as everyone believes it to be. You don’t realize this is happening. You don’t get the cycle is unhealthy or that this isn’t normal.”  she said “When you realize it, you don’t just get up and leave, You can’t. There’s too much invested, too much time, energy and just everything.” She said, “When the cycle starts, it’s hard to stop it. It almost becomes addicting with the highs and the lows. The highs are so wonderful that you just believe if you can get through the lows you’ll make it to that high. And you’ll be happy.”

Comet journalists asked Dr. Dimitry for a reaction to the victim’s interview. He said, “Two things: in the beginning of the situation, you won’t recognize the abuse. When you do realize it, good things in the relationship makes it complicated. Making the decision, ‘Is tolerating the bad stuff enough for the good stuff?’ It’s a very difficult decision to make. She might benefit from getting counseling so she can look at things objectively.”

If your friend reacts in a negative way, you can continuously warn them about the signs and constantly let them know that they are in an abusive relationship. In order to save the friendship or at least keep it together you need to let your friend know you’re telling them these things because you care about them and that you only want what’s best for them. Seeking help for your friend depends because they are the ones who are in control of themselves and their actions in order to leaved the relationship. You should call attention to it when it gets really out of hand and when the signs are very clear such as your friend being physically abused.

Some hotlines for abuse and counseling are as follows:

    • 1 (800) 572-SAFE (7233) -> New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline
    • 1 (800) 601-7200 -> New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA)
    • 1 (800) 322-8092 -> Women’s Referral Central Hotline

There are also other centers such as Drop In at HHS in room 119 and the Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence Center in Hackensack.

What Options Do You Have If You Are Being Abused

By Michelle Steidle, Breeya Gandy, and Lindsay Pacheco

Dating violence is a pattern of abusive behavior in which one partner exerts and maintains power over the other. The occurrence of dating violence is often hushed within society. Often, the people who hurt the most, report the least. Strain can hover heavy, so when the talkative free-spirit starts isolating him or herself while in a relationship, a problem could be arising.

One in three high school relationships involve mental or physical abuse, explained Mrs. S. Millard, a community educator from the Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence.

Coming to terms

Realizing what is wrong in a situation is not the easiest thing. Neediness, mutual infatuation, and abuse can often make one confused because of the thin line that separates them, according to Ms. Jackie Ruff, licensed social worker at HHS’ Drop-In Center.

Dr. Dimitry, HHS school psychologist, suggested potential victims consider all the signs of abuse like periods of toxicity and the bully abuser type, so that once you come to terms with your reality there will be many ways to receive help or treatment for yourself,  your relationship, and even your partner if they are willing.

Ms J Millard, a licensed clinical social worker at HHS, stated that “1.5 million students experience physical abuse every year” and although these actions happen often, with proper help abuse can be fixed with intensive couples treatment while both parties admit that there is a problem.¨ This doesn’t mean that both people are at fault, more so that both partners have issues in the relationship that should be addressed.  


If you are in an abusive relationship there is always a way to approach the issue with a friend, family member, counselor, or with the person that is doing the abusing. This situation can be hard because you will start realizing that what is happening is true by confessing to your peers.

To ensure that all goes well, Ms. S. Millard suggests that the question “why would you stay” or other variations should be avoided because the phrase places blame on the victim. If anyone states this question to you, don’t allow yourself to feel like it is your fault.

According to Dr. Dimitry, “Treatment of emotional and physical abuse comes down to each individual” depending on the situation that is occurring, and it affects both people in the relationship not just one person, he said.

Additionally, Miss Ruff states that “fear stops people from reporting.” Therefore, when addressing yourself as the victim, have someone go report the abuse with you, so you have nothing to fear. Remember that you must do what is right for you and your health, even if it seems scary.  

As an alternative, you can go the anonymous help route and call the 24 Hour abuse Hotline (201-336-7575) to talk to a specialist about what you are going through. If you aren’t comfortable speaking with someone close to you this is always an option.


Dr. Dimitry speaks to the class about relationship abuse.

Getting Help for Abusive Relationships

By Treasure Clarke, Michelle Coneo, and Jessica Ibrahimian


Imagine you are sitting in a class filled with 30 people, did you know that it is highly likely that 10 out of those 30 are or have been in a poisonous relationship? As reported by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), relationship abuse is an issue that can affect anyone in our community, including men. However, it’s never too late to end the abuse and get out of these type of relationships.

According to an article, ¨Domestic Violence and Abuse¨ written by Melinda Smith, M. A, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and published on, Different types of abuse in a relationship can be emotional, physical, sexual, verbal, or even financial. These can include threats, isolation, and intimidation. This kind of violence can escalate over time.

The HHS journalism class covered a series of press conferences with school special services professionals whose expertise includes relationship abuse. These professionals are well-prepared, willing to help every member of our community to move on from toxic relationships, and to guide them through the path of overcoming a destructive bond with the aggressor.

There is a percentage of students at HHS who have reported being in an abusive relationship, according to Ms. Koonin, who is our Student Assistance Counselor in Room 293. She said that, “It’s good to show that you are advocating for yourself.” However, she also noted that many other cases exist but have been kept hidden because of fear and some other reasons.

Our backgrounds and the people we are surrounded by while we’re growing up may contribute to the way we treat others. According to Ms. Shepherd, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at HHS she said, “A person who grew up in abusive background, they think abuse is normal in a relationship.”

When growing up in a community where coercive relationships are the norm, it may be hard to recognize the negative impact a person is having on you. Don’t diminish emotional abuse, it is as equal to the physical one, Ms. Shepherd said.

Ms. Koonin also said,  “When you are a baby and have a relationship with your guardian that isn’t emotional it may affect you into becoming an abuser.”

Ms. Ruff, a social worker at HHS, clarified that an offender may seem innocent from the outside but has unpleasant actions with their partner, she said it’s important to get help as soon as possible since the victimizer will make you feel guilty every step of the way.

Remember that here at HHS we have resources to help you if you or your friend are in need of help they are:

  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Mr. Sanchez
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Mrs. Millard
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Ms. Shepherd
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker: Miss Ruff
  • Dr. Dimitry, PHD: Clinical Psychologist
  • School Psychologist: Ms. Trocolar
  • Ms. Koonin: Student Assistance Counselor – Room 293
  • Ms. S. Millard: Community Educator Bergen County Alternatives to Domestic Violence
  • Drop In Center, Guidance, Administration, and HHS teachers are always available to talk to.

There are steps you may follow if you identify yourself as a victim of an abusive relationship. Here they are:  

  • Seek comfort in a person you trust and tell them about it.
  • If you know of a friend or someone who is being a victim of abusive relationships you need to listen to the victim and get help from a responsible adult or a professional.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224
  • Juvenile Crisis Hotline – For parents and kids (1-855-427-2736)
  • ADV – Alternatives to Domestic Violence | 24-hr hotline: 201-336-7575.

Toxic Friendships May Sneak Up on Us

By Hope Ortiz, Aisha Khalid, Thalia Andrade, and Amia Weldon

When a frog is placed into a cool pot of water, it seems pleasant to the creature. If that water is then slowly heated up, the frog does not perceive the danger that lies ahead.

Toxic friendships are similar since the person involved may not notice the danger, like the warming water around the frog.

Florence Isaacs, the author of Toxic Friends/True Friends, explains that a toxic friendship is unsupportive, draining, unrewarding, stifling, unsatisfying, and often unequal.

According to Ms. Shepherd, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at HHS, toxic friendships are usually established by those who have the bullying type of personality. She states that these type of people make their friends feel weaker than them in order to feel better about themselves.

The base component of a toxic friendship is insecurity on the part of the perpetrator. The people who cause toxicity are known to be needy, narcissistic, and feel deserving of admiration.

Ms. Shepherd mentioned that “since they’re feeling insecure, they need to exert influence in order to feel powerful, much like a bully.”

WebMD gives key characteristics of toxic friendships to look out for. One of these characteristics includes the issue of taking but not giving and returning a favor.

Another characteristic of toxicity is that he or she is not a supportive friend and constantly put others down, where it becomes a daily routine, according to the website. At this point, the friendship has stopped being one that will enhance emotional health.

The last key characteristic, according to reports on the website, is that this specific friend brings out the worst in an individual. Friends are supposed to guide and help others make good choices. A toxic friendship, on the other hand, could lead one onto the wrong path.

Ms. Shepherd said, “The idea is to break out of the isolated relationship; whoever you talk to should be someone that you have a good relationship with.”

Essentially, everyone deserves to have a good and happy friendship.

If you find that you are involved in a toxic one, there are multiple ways you can get help or support:

-You can take back control in toxic friendships and how they make you feel by setting boundaries. By setting boundaries, you are being assertive and are prioritizing your needs.

-If that’s becoming too hard to cope with, the best thing to do is to end the friendship because it’s better to eliminate something before it starts causing more harm than it already has.

-By ending the relationship, you are alleviating and freeing yourself from the stress of toxicity.

-Lastly, you can make yourself open to talking to other people such as the social workers, guidance counselors, teachers, and the Drop-in Center here at HHS.

The frog story is a common analogy to explain any kind of abusive friendship/relationship as the frog is said to die in the end. In reality, the frog jumps out once the water gets too hot. Likewise, once you notice the signs of toxicity, you can get out of the friendship in time.



Ms. Shepherd discusses relationship abuse with HHS Journalism class.


Op-Ed: We Can All Break the Cycle of Relationship Abuse

By Kimberly Pena

“The summer before I turned six years old, my parents finally got divorced. That seems very odd to say, finally. Most people want a complete family. They want to have their mom, their dad and maybe a sibling or two, that’s how the setup is with average American families. But not mine. I was only six years old and at the time my definition of love was accepting violent words and closed fists. My  definition of love was unhealthy jealousy and infatuation masked by insecurity and selfishness. If you haven’t caught on yet, my parents divorced because of domestic violence. At six years old I saw my  mother be a victim to relationship abuse.”

Relationship abuse is much more common than people think. It affects over two million people a year (

And my mom was one of them.

Ever since I discovered this I vowed I would never allow myself to fall into the cycle of what she thought was love and what really was pain, a cycle that many teens in high school fall into as well.

Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year, according to and most of them don’t even know it. They almost always deny that they are a victim, keeping their eyes closed to what’s truly happening.

Whether it be emotional, mental, psychological, or physical, all forms of abuse are damaging and very harmful to the victim. Abuse changes a person inside and out, and abuse alters the people around them. Changes in the victim include sudden isolation and lost of interest in things they once thoroughly enjoyed. There is a growing lack of socialization and there is a change in their normal personality. The victim insists on covering up with clothing and/or makeup, possibly trying to cover bruises or scarring. He or she no longer shows affection as before, and when a traditional hug is offered, will shy away. Suddenly they’re having mood swings and acting fearful around friends or  acting sad. A friend doesn’t know why, but just wants that old friend back.

Often, these signs are being displayed directly in front of us but we get distracted by the fact that this is high school, and we’ve been programmed to believe that relationship abuse only occurs between adults. We don’t realize that it happens to people in platonic as well as serious relationships in high school, to both friends and associates.

We may also become so absorbed with helping others that we forget to think about ourselves. Toxicity is found everywhere. Abusive people are found everywhere. That friend since sophomore year that is constantly throwing micro-aggressions every day may be abusive. That can be toxic. The girlfriend that is making her boyfriend feel bad for playing football, eventually persuading him to quit the team, may be abusive, and that, too, can be toxic.

There are countless scenarios for abuse in high school and it can happen. We must agree on where the line separating friendship from abuse ends and begins. We must set a precedent of educating our youth to recognize abuse for what it is, and we, as a community, must teach one another to love ourselves before loving others, and to treat others as we would have ourselves treated.

But right now, there is abuse, and so we must set a precedent where we say it is okay to be a victim so you can then get out of it and find guidance, and healing.

At the beginning of this piece I shared my mother’s story, one she shares with people who just happen to ask or who just happen to discuss the topic with her. Had she not left, had she not gotten help, there’s a very good chance I wouldn’t be writing this for you. There’s a good chance my little brother and I could’ve been lost in the foster care system, growing up without one another or a mother.

Many cases of relationship abuse don’t end well, so it is important to help yourself while you can, or help your friend while you can. The time is now, the pain is real.