'Jessie' star Debby Ryan tells harrowing story of dating abuse, wants to help others

Debby Ryan teams with Mary Kay to raise awareness about dating abuse


Debby Ryan, the star of Disney’s hit show "Jessie," may seem to have it all, but her fans may be surprised to know the actress/singer was once in an abusive romantic relationship. 

Ryan has teamed with cosmetic company Mary Kay to bring awareness to the issue of dating abuse, which they say impacts one in three young people today. The 21-year-old aspiring director spoke with FOX411 about her abusive relationship, and how she gained the strength to finally get out of it. 

FOX411: Why did you partner with Mary Kay for the Don’t Look Away program?

Debby Ryan: Mary Kay is partnering with Love is Respect. It’s this entire initiative that they always been kind of at the forefront of prevention and treatment, and really funding these amazing things like putting $50 million dollars into really making sure that these women are really taken care of as well as on the preventative side. What I think is really important is that a lot of people my age don’t realize that either this is where habits are formed, this is where behaviors begin, this is where things start to progress in a way that can sort of, if you’re not careful, can spiral out of control.

FOX411: Why are you so passionate about this cause?

Ryan: I got to a point in a relationship that I was in where I realized that every relationship … love is hard. Love is freaking hard, and fighting for a relationship is so much work and can be so beautiful, and if you’re going to fight so hard for something that does not make you stronger and better and build you up, something’s wrong. And I think that we, or I, or whatever, are taught that here are signs that your relationship, something is wrong. I got to a point of being grabbed, being locked out of rooms, being screamed at, having things thrown at me, cussed at, begged for forgiveness, cried to, all while trying to keep it together and justifying this relationship. And that was the point that I realized maybe there was a red flag. What was weird was that I didn’t realize all the unhealthy things -- the digital abuse, him demanding my phone passwords, the mental abuse, the manipulation, the emotional abuse.

FOX411: What are some signs that people should pay attention to?

Ryan: For me I’m very fortunate because I had people, when I got to that point, which I don’t want any of my friends to ever get to, that point, I don’t want anyone who hears about this to get to that point. I want people to know, don’t look away, that’s the whole slogan for this, if you see this happening to your friend. But for me, I want people to know that if something doesn’t add up, you can go to You can text in this number Love is Respect. You text love is 22522, and you have an anonymous safe peer advocate from our age that you can talk to whether it’s "This is dire," "This is violent" or "Is this normal?", "Is this real?", "what is healthy in a relationship?"

FOX411: When did you realize you needed help?

Ryan: That was so hard, because of this is in some way being convinced or trained to justify it and to deny it, and that was a huge thing. I had people fighting for me saying, “I feel like this isn’t right? Are you okay? Is this what you want?” People who didn’t see what it was but we’re like, “Ok, you’re on hour nine hanging out and you want to have a one hour girls’ night and he’s inviting himself along, and he won’t let you leave are you sure you want to hang out with him?” People asking me questions was a little bit of what woke me up but I think it was definitely a moment. He threw his phone at me and it shattered. I ducked and it shattered and … it was insane. It was such a heavy situation. I didn’t realize until it got to that point that it didn’t add up and something was wrong. It was crazy. I was so strong in my career at that point. I was shadowing directors and beginning to direct. I had a producing contract. I was heading up my own series.

FOX411: No one would think that someone like you dominating in your career would be in an abusive relationship.

Ryan: I don’t think I thought that either. I felt like because I had things in control over my career, I probably had things in control in all facets, which means I probably wanted this. I probably wanted someone to fight for me and to get jealous and crazy. And you look at these sorts of things and you say, "Not normal behaviors," but it’s interesting because you can look up warning signs and try to figure it out but ultimately, you know what I love about Mary Kay, if it weren’t for the people in my life that helped get and keep this person out of my life, if it weren’t for the boy that I was getting to know and falling in love with at the time, this different boy to show me what real love was, I don’t think I would have known.

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WATCH: Debby Ryan on changing showbiz careers