Organizations gather to open dialogue about teen dating violence

It’s a startling statistic victims rights’ advocates say Georgians should not be proud of: Georgia ranks number one in the nation in teen dating violence.

That was one takeaway from a recent forum at the Columbus Public Library focused on teen dating violence that also offered information and support for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child sex trafficking.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. Lindsey Reis, executive director of Hope Harbour, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy agency for victims of domestic abuse says teen dating violence isn’t discussed much. However, it’s a big issue affecting schools and teens.

She said talking with teens about healthy relationships is critical.

“The majority of women who are killed later on in life met their abusers between the ages of like 13 and 24,” Reis said.

Also teen dating violence could potentially mask domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), according to Bobbi Starr of Micah’s Promise, an organization fighting sex trafficking. “It can look like teen dating violence when it actually could be a trafficking situation,” said Starr.

“Last year, almost 800 children in the state of Georgia were recognized as trafficked children,” Starr said, “ and they came from 138 counties in our state, including Columbus.“

Laurie Smithson, victim resource advocate for the Sexual Assault Support Center in Columbus, stressed that help and support are available.

“We just want y’all to know that you are not alone through the process, “ Smithson said. She told the audience that she recently helped a victim swear out a temporary protective order against a perpetrator.

“We can’t do this alone,” Smithson told the audience, “ ladies, gentleman, men in particular take this back to your sons, take this back to your grandsons and tell them there is a way to do things right, and there’s a way to do things wrong.”

“The takeaway is that we acknowledge it, understand it, so that we can know how to help whether it’s someone we know or even someone in the community, “ said Lauren Chambers, marketing account manager at Amerigroup.

“Here in the tri-city area we have had some situations occur so it’s really important we just take heed, listen, and take it all in,” said Chambers.

Amerigroup hosted the forum along with Hope Harbour, the Sexual Assault Support Center, Micah’s Promise, Domestic Violence Roundtable, and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Columbus Metropolitan Chapter & Columbus Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority had informational tables and spoke during the event.

Go to www.ledger-enquirer.com for a video interview with Lindsey Reis, executive director of Hope Harbour, about teen dating violence and its impact.