It started so well for Paige and Chase, the attractive, if imaginary, college couple. He brought her coffee. She enjoyed his company. They studied together, danced at alcohol-fueled parties.
The relationship became physical, then physical in a not good way when, in a jealous rage, he slammed her against a tree. She tried to break up. In the end, after he'd killed her, their roommates admitted to police that they had seen warning signs but were full of excuses as to why they hadn't done anything.
While Paige and Chase don't actually exist, their story is real, told in a film called, "Escalation," based on a composite of abusive incidents. Developed by the One Love Foundation, the film is part of a program that was held Friday at St. Paul's Schools, in Brooklandville, for 11th- and 12th-grade boys and girls.
In a first for the state, One Love Foundation and St. Paul's School for Girls and St. Paul's School have formed a partnership to educate their students about domestic violence.
"We are thrilled to have this partnership," said Sharon Love, head of the foundation that was created after the May 2010 murder of her daughter, Yeardley Love, by her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V while the two were students at the University of Virginia. "My goal is to reach every high school in Maryland" with the program, Love said.
It was also a first for the program, which has been presented at a few colleges in the state but not in a high school. The two-hour long program has an opening assembly with speakers and the film, then breaks into discussion sessions.
The program is geared toward 16- to 24-year-olds, a specific dating demographic. A team of experts created it, emphasizing how to recognize warning signs and how to respond. A two-year, $400,000 donation for domestic violence education given by the Baltimore Ravens funded it.
"When we first started developing the program about relationships, there were so many things that we had to zero in," Love said of the focus on a high school-college population.
"We wanted to reach boys and girls. When we tested the program, we found they like being together for the assembly but separating for the discussion sessions," Love said.
Love said the foundation chose students as its target audience for the program because, at such an impressionable age, they offered the best hope of hearing the foundation's message. For victims, she said, that means "trusting your instincts and talking to someone" about the abuse; for observers it means "getting involved. Don't be a bystander."
During her talk to the 350 students at the opening assembly, Love recounted the May day when she first learned of her daughter's death.
"There was a knock on my door. The dogs started barking and I was worried they'd disturb the neighbors. The people at the door asked was I Yeardley Love's mother?" said Love who, up to that point, "knew nothing about relationship violence. It wasn't part of our family conversation."
Caity Whiteley, Yeardley's friend and roommate at the University of Virginia, echoed the sentiment. "Violence happens to other people, not to someone we know," said Whiteley, a St. Paul's School for Girls 2006 graduate, who also spoke at the assembly.
Although Yeardley Love and Huguely had been dating for awhile, the two friends noticed a change for the worse in him in his senior year. He became difficult, jealous. In January, four months prior to her murder, there was an incident.
"He held her down, put her in a chokehold. He apologized the next day, said he didn't mean to do it," Whiteley said. "That should have been a warning," she said, but it wasn't.
Whiteley feels differently now. "Once is enough," she told the students. "It isn't worth it."
As for the students, Love would have been thrilled to hear Kathy Hirsch's take on the film.
"It was very powerful. I recognize the warning signs now. I don't think I would have before," the 11th- grader from Lutherville said after viewing the film.
Allan Koikoi, a 12th-grade Randallstown resident, said he has seen a few incidents in public "where people have gotten aggressive." As for the program, he was hoping "to learn something new although I know what I'd do" in such a situation.
Brendan Connolly, a 12th-grader from Towson, called the program "one of the most beneficial experiences" of his life.
Connolly was one of 20 students who volunteered to lead discussion sessions after the assembly. "There are three types of abuse — emotional, physical and mental," he said. "It's not just men mistreating women."
Katharine Dockman, an 11th-grader from Lutherville, also volunteered to lead a discussion session. During Dockman's session, the discussion focused on the film. The comments were frank and astute, and the six girls in the session didn't let the fictional character in the film, Paige, off the hook either.
"She never said 'no.' She never said [to Chase] — this is wrong."
"She keeps telling herself he's a great person," as if she has to convince herself.
"Her friends could have done so much more but she was so silent about it."
"To his roommates, maybe it seemed more consensual than it was. [They told [police] they were friends with him and they didn't want get involved."
"If he doesn't make you feel good about yourself, then it's not love," as Chase repeatedly professed to Paige.
Christy Ferrens, St. Paul's School for Girls upper school dean of students, was instrumental in forming the partnership with the One Love Foundation. "We're very excited. We think highly of the work the foundation is doing," she said.
"It really speaks to the students," she said of the program, which she expects to become an annual event. "It provides a fabulous opportunity to talk to the students before they go to college."