Speaker explores prevalence of teen dating sexual assault

By Courtney Klemm

Like many fathers, Tom Santoro loved and protected his teenage daughter, Lisa. On Monday night, Santoro took a group of about 75 young women through his experiences as his daughter grew up, dated and prepared to enter college at Iowa University. Lisa never got the chance, though – she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend three weeks before she left for school.

“It destroyed my life as a dad,” Santoro said. “Nothing was worse for me than to tell my wife and son that our little girl is not coming home.”

Santoro spoke at Gregory Hall on Monday night as a guest of the Panhellenic Council of the University. He focused on issues of dating violence and the research he has learned since his daughter’s death more than 11 years ago.

An estimated 85 to 95 percent of the victims of dating violence are female, and between two and four million women are battered each year. On average, only 25 percent of young women break up with their partner after being hit for the first time, Santoro said.

“On the first date, if he slaps her, he’s a jerk and she never wants to see him again,” he said. “Five months later, it’s ‘it won’t happen again.’ What happened in five months? She fell in love. I always thought love meant you weren’t supposed to hurt each other.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

When couples first start to date, several types of abuse can happen, including verbal, sexual, emotional and physical, Santoro said. An abusive relationship usually starts with verbal or emotional abuse and can progress to physical abuse, he said.

“It feels like being in prison with the door open,” Santoro said of abusive relationships. “You can leave any time you want to. I know it’s hard and I know you’re attached, but you really can leave any time.”

Santoro said trust and respect were the two main things that a person should look for in a relationship.

“You need a very healthy and a very safe relationship,” he told audience members. “A girl should never have to worry about talking to another guy because her partner would lose it. Trust is the biggest issue.”

Kristin Goodwin, senior in Education and Vice President of Risk Management for Panhellenic Council, said she had heard Santoro’s presentation twice before and wanted to bring him to campus because she thought he was a very effective speaker and gets his point across well to young women.

Santoro also played a slideslow he made in memory of his daughter, showing images of Lisa as she grew up and home videos from various occasions, while the song “One Sweet Day” played. Tears streamed down attendees’ faces as a video of Lisa showed her offering a prayer at church.

“That innocent people will no longer have to know the suffering violence brings, let us pray to the Lord,” she recited in the video.

Kara Spudic, junior in LAS, said the presentation and slideshow really hit home for her.

“It was very personal and real,” Spudic said. “The video was moving and empowering more than anything else. All I heard was sniffing and crying. I think the more awareness we can raise the better.”

Santoro said he felt dating violence was not discussed enough, especially on college campuses. He now travels around the country, telling his story so that he might be able to reach out and save other young women from situations like his daughter’s.

“Even now, when we go to weddings and they do the father-daughter dance, I have to leave,” he said. “I’ll never get that chance now because someone thought, ‘if I can’t have her, no one else can.'”