VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — We teach our children to walk and talk, but do we teach kids how to ask for help? That is the question a survivor of abuse wants you to think about during domestic violence awareness month.

Jazmine Smith is now a trauma informed advocate and Army veteran. Smith is also a survivor of teen intimate partner violence.

At age 17, while still in high school, Smith met her boyfriend, who was 21 at the time. 

“The fact that he was even paying me any attention to begin with was something that was uncommon and unnatural for me,” she said. 

Within months, he started abusing her.

“I was a child. It was mostly physical abuse,” Smith said. “There weren’t many things that he could tell me to hurt me because I didn’t really know who I was. The big difference, I think, with teen dating is that with most teens, dating is forbidden. You’re likely hiding this relationship and when it turns violent, who do you tell?”

The abuse grew worse for the young solider after they married in 2005, and when she gave birth to their daughter.

“I left the hospital with my newborn, my three-year-old sister and my about-to-be 16-year-old brother. I had three kids to take care of,” Smith said. “I had the responsibility of also caring for my siblings as well. I started to fight back when I knew that I had other people’s lives in my hands and my sister, my brother and my daughter.”

After years of “very vicious violence,” mistreatment and manipulation, Smith got a divorce in April 2009. Yet an Aug. 16, 2009 attack was the final straw.

Las Vegas court documents shared from Nexstar sister station KLAS shows that Smith’s ex-husband strangled and hit her several times while she tried to drive away from him. Her ex entered a guilty plea of attempt battery constituting domestic violence-strangulation. 

Now, Smith is working with domestic violence agencies in Hampton Roads to make sure parents know how to help teens recognize toxic relationships. She’s hosting workshops in middle schools, and she works with several community-based organizations, including Planned Parenthood and the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

Smith also serves on several boards, including the Behavioral Health Advisory Board for the city of Portsmouth and the Family Assessment and Planning Team for the city of Portsmouth. 

On Friday, Smith will speak at the Samaritan House’s Women Against Violence luncheon in Virginia Beach.

“In our community, instances of intimate partner violence, which accounts for 15% of all violent crime, continues to rise, especially among women between the ages of 18 to 24,” said Robin Gauthier, Samaritan House executive director. “We hope that by bringing Jazmine Smith to speak about her story of abuse and survival that started when she was in high school, we can raise awareness about IPV, help young people learn the signs and how to talk about their concerns and experiences.”

Smith called the speaking opportunity a full-circle moment, as her daughter is now a teen and recently gave birth to a baby boy. 

“My daughter is the same age that I was … when this never-ending chapter started in my life,” Smith said. “It’s so amazing to be going through the parenting journey and starting over again. I feel like I have a clean slate.”

Smith: “My message to parents is, don’t give up on your kids. Always leave that door open. If I had known that I could come back home without judgment, I would have told someone.”

The 9th Annual Women Against Violence (WAV) luncheon takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Westin Virginia Beach Town Center. 

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If you or you know someone who may be a victim of domestic violence or child abuse, click here for a list of local and national resources.