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'I thought I was going to lose my life,' MN woman recalls violent teen relationship

Micah Jeppesen, a victim of dating violence, agreed to tell her story in the HOPE Coalition 2017 film “Standing Strong” because she doesn’t want what happened to her to happen to anyone else. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor1 / 2
After her boyfriend became violent while they were on a date, Micah Jeppesen decided to share her story in the film “Standing Strong” so that other young people will be aware of what to look for – and what to watch out for – in a relationship. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor2 / 2

CANNON FALLS, Minn. — She thought it was normal for a boyfriend to be protective, and a bit jealous. It showed he cared.

At first, the 18-year-old Cannon Falls High School senior didn't mind that he seemed to be making all the decisions.

"It was my first relationship, so I didn't know what the boundaries were," said Micah Jeppesen, who was 18 at the time. "I didn't know what to expect."

She recalls him becoming more critical of her, stating no one else would want to be with her and blaming her if something went wrong.

Jeppesen noticed that he was trying to separate her from her friends and her family.

A cheerleader and an athlete, she considered herself a happy person with good friends. But her self-esteem was plummeting, and she found herself getting depressed.

Just before prom, her boyfriend of over a year became upset.

"He slapped my face. He grabbed me and threw me to the ground," Jeppesen recalled. But she let it pass. He was sorry.

According to Loveisrespect — launched in 2015 as a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline to help young people prevent and end abusive relationships — violent behavior typically begins between 12 and 18 years old. Women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence at almost triple the national average, and of those victims who were 16-19 years old, 94 percent were abused by a current or former partner.

The violence Jeppesen experienced wasn't an isolated incident.

She and her boyfriend were driving home June 21, 2015, from a graduation party when he pulled over. The outing turned into a nightmare.

"He snapped," Jeppesen said, recalling he pulled her hair, banging her head against the car window, and started choking her.

She opened the door and began to run, but he chased and caught her. He dragged Jeppesen by her hair back to the car and punched her.

Jeppesen entered the car first, managing to lock the doors before driving away without him.

"I thought I was going to lose my life," she said. "I was scared that he had a nut loose. ... I didn't expect him to do something like that."

While she was driving home, Jeppesen said, "He kept calling me. He kept saying he was scared and I needed to come and pick him up.

"He did not seem to realize that was the end of our relationship. I was not going to put up with it any more."

Jeppesen called her father, who in turn phoned police.

"I wanted to file charges right away, to keep him away from me and my family." Police took photos of her injuries and went out to the field where the attack occurred to look for the purse she had to leave behind.

After making sure that her arm was not broken and that she did not have a concussion, police advised her to go to the emergency room, where she was treated for bruises and scratches. Some of her hair was pulled out, and her earrings were ripped from her earlobes. Her face was bloody.

Her parents stayed with her until the hospital released her around 3 a.m.

Meanwhile, Jeppesen's boyfriend had run the 10 miles into town and gone to his brother's house, where police arrested him.

Later he was sentenced to 30 days in jail and electronic home monitoring, and ordered to attend anger management sessions.

Being attacked and beaten while she was on a date had lingering emotional effects on her. Jeppesen was diagnosed with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

It took therapy to help her accept that violence is something that happens to you, not because of you.

According to Loveisrespect, half of youth victims of dating violence and rape attempt suicide, compared to 12.5 percent of non-abused girls and 5.4 percent of non-abused boys.

Her father found HOPE Coalition, serves people who are abused or disadvantaged — victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, homelessness and lack of basic needs.

She learned the importance of getting out of a bad relationship. "I learned to take matters in my own hands," Jeppesen said.

She decided to do something more because, she explained, "I didn't want it to happen to other people."

Her mother, Elise Taube, supported her decision and offered some advice to other parents.

"Being a mother of a daughter, all I can say is follow your heart," Taube said. "I felt like something was wrong and I wished I would have pushed her to talk to me.

"I am learning that violence does not discriminate against age. Our kids are not always safe, no matter how much you track them or talk to them or how open your relationship is."

Jeppesen decided she wanted to tell her story and warn other young people what to look for in a relationship — and what to watch out for.

She is in the minority, according to Loveisrespect, which estimates only roughly 33 percent of teens say anything.

Still, she hesitated when HOPE Coalition Development Coordinator Linda Flanders, who has filmmaking experience, asked her if she would tell her story in a video that would be shared with others.

"I thought people would think I was doing it to get attention," Jeppesen said. But her therapist and her parents encouraged her to make the film so others would recognize the signs of an abusive relationship.

"Hopefully, by getting this information out there and kids seeing that this happens, they too can speak out for their friends," Taube said. "It's not a normal thing."

Jeppesen continued to reach out this spring, addressing high school classes and attending various groups and events.

"I was kind of surprised," she said, at how many young people — both girls and boys — asked her how to tell if a relationship is abusive, and how to get out of it.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate roughly one in seven men have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner, while one in four women are victims.

Now, Jeppesen attends college and is pursuing a nursing degree.

It wasn't easy for her to resume dating, but she has crossed that barrier, too.

"A lot of things (a date) would do would remind me of him and set me off," Jeppesen said. "It took a few times to become comfortable with a guy again. Raised voices set me off for a while."

In her first relationship, she ignored troubling signs.

Her advice to anyone who is in an emotionally or physically abusive relationship is simple: "Get out of it as soon as possible. Be with someone who makes you happy."

RiverTown reporter John Russett contributed to this story.