SHARE 27 COMMENTMORE

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- February is "Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month."

You may hear this and think, that's something that happens to other people, but know this: The next time you see three teens, odds are one of them will be beaten, verbally or sexually abused or even killed as a result of a dating relationship.

This story is about what you can do to make sure you help that one person who needs it. We've also listed places to call at the end of this article to get help.

More:Relationship Quizzes/Learn The Signs of Abuse

Nate Robertson of Arlington, Virginia knows firsthand the effects dating violence can have. His sister Abby Robertson was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2007.

"My sister was incredibly smart, a very passionate person. She just was a person that everybody wanted to have around."

Nate is telling her story so that other families don't have to endure the same pain he has.

With her pretty, all-American good looks, 21-year-old Abigail or "Abby" Robertson probably isn't the face you'd picture when you think "dating violence."

Nate didn't either.

"My family didn't think he would kill her, I didn't think he would kill her, her friends didn't think he would kill her. You have to understand that these types of situations can lead directly to that."

The "he" Nate is talking about is 24-year-old former Army soldier Marcus Hightower. Abby and Marcus met at Metropolitan State University in Denver, when he was her residence assistant. They dated for 5 months, then she told him she wanted to break it off.

Nate explains how the violence started, "He had knocked her down, he had hit her in the chest with an iron, he had been possessive."

Abby moved off-campus but Nate says Hightower kept stalking.

"One time he came over to her house, he punched her in the chest, knocked her down, then ran outside and slashed all the tires on her car, keyed her car."

Nate says the family got a restraining order, but the stalking didn't stop.

Police say on December 11th, 2007, Hightower busted into Abby's apartment, stabbed her 20-plus times, and shot her 4 times. Abby died one day after her 21st birthday. In 2010, Hightower was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Nate says since 2007, it's been a struggle.

"The hardest emotion to deal with is the guilt because you feel like you let the person down. I feel like every day I let my sister down by allowing this to happen to her."

Kiyana Oxendine of Northwest D.C. has lived to share her story of abuse. She too may not look like what you might consider a typical victim.

"You wouldn't expect me to be that girl, I was this high school, straight A student, I went to work. I was always smiling, I was always happy, that's how people knew me, that was my façade."

Kiyana met her boyfriend when she was a teen. She says he checked in with her constantly.

"I thought he just cared about where I was or he was just concerned about my safety. I didn't put two and two together that he's controlling. It became physical gradually, and it might have been a push, or like a shove and then it got outright bad."

While Abby Robertson opened up to her family about her abuse, Kiyana says no one knew her pain.

"I would hide my marks, I would wear turtlenecks to work, you would be none the wiser, I work with the public, if I cried, I went to myself and cried. You would never know."

Kiyana says after years of beatings, she knew the worst one had to be the last. After years of private pain, she credits God with giving her the strength to leave.

"I overcame it, I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor and there's someone else who can probably really use this bit of advice."

Karma Cottman runs the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her goal, to stop dating violence in it's tracks.

Cottman says, "Often times people think it's just about the physical abuse, but especially for teenagers, manipulation and emotional abuse is extremely important."

Cottman says young women ages 16 to 24 are at the greatest risk. She shared with us the signs of abuse. It often starts off with controlling behavior.

"The jealousy, signs that you have to check in all the time, signs that's someone wants to know where you are all the time."

Then, oftentimes, she says the abuser will try to keep you to him or herself.

"Signs that you're being isolated from your family and friends, so someone's telling you when you can be around your friends....saying that this person is good and this person is not good for you."

And then, there's the physical. "We tell people that the first time is usually not the last time and at that point if you can get help, please, please do."

We caught up with Cottman while she was giving a speech to dozens of teens at a Teen Dating Violence Roundtable at the John A. Wilson Building in downtown D.C. on Valentine's Day.

She says even if the teens at the roundtable aren't at risk, they may know a friend who is. That's why it's so important to talk about this.

It's a thought echoed often by Nate Robertson, five years after his sister's death.

"Friends need to step in and say this person is dangerous and you need to take this more seriously than you're taking it, because this happens, 21-year-old women get murdered by their ex-boyfriends."

Cottman says the National Domestic Violence hotline gets 30,000 calls a year from people who live in D.C., and the number shows no signs of decreasing any time soon.

The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence is one of many organizations helping victims throughout this area.

The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council of Montgomery County is holding an awareness conference Sunday, March 3, 2013. You don't have to live in the county to attend.

It's called the "4th Annual Choose Respect Montgomery Teen Dating Conference" and it runs from 1pm to 4:30 pm.

The event is free for students in grades six through 12, their parents and youth service providers. Workshops will be held in English and in Spanish.

Organizers say they'll teach participants how to recognize all signs of abuse, how to advocate for yourself, and be there to support your friends and family.

The event will take place at:

Montgomery College, Germantown Campus
Globe Hall
20200 Observation Drive
Germantown, MD 20876

Agencies To Help Dating Violence Victims

1. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE

2. National Teen Dating Violence Hotline: 1-866-331-9474

3. One Love Foundation-In Honor of Yeardley Reynolds Love:
410-825-0994


SHARE 27 COMMENTMORE