One in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, and teens who experience violence are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, attempt suicide, and carry patterns of abuse into future relationships. Because of this, Georgia Legal Services Attorney Tomieka Daniel is working with local domestic violence task forces, asking schools to take steps to end dating violence among teens and formally recognize February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The cities of Dublin, Irwinton, Fort Valley, and Madison have already committed to signing the proclamation.
While Georgia law requires that the Board of Education develop curriculum on teen dating violence prevention for grades 8-12, it’s unclear if one has been developed and implemented by local school districts throughout the state.
“Teens face many of the same issues that adults face when dealing with dating violence, however there are not as many avenues available for teens to tap into when seeking help,” says Daniel, the attorney with Georgia Legal Services, pointing to the lack of resources for teens in violent relationships. The civil legal aid organization handles hundreds of domestic violence cases each year throughout the state, including for high school and college students.
The proclamation Daniel and others are asking school district officials to sign states that, by addressing violence and unhealthy relationship behavior early on, domestic violence later in life can be prevented. “…By providing young people with education about healthy relationships and changing their attitudes away from supporting violence to embracing mutual respect, we recognize that dating violence can be prevented,” it reads.
With an estimated one in three women having experienced physical violence in an intimate partner relationship in their lifetime, prevention of such violence is significant, and could be life-saving. Fifty percent of victims who die at the hands of their abuser started those relationships while they were young, between the ages of 13 and 24, according to a report from The Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project.
For teenagers involved in abusive relationships, there is help. Attorneys at Georgia Legal Services can assist in obtaining a stalking order, which orders the stalker to stop hitting, harassing, and contacting the victim. The attorneys can also work with school officials to educate them on violence prevention, and advocate class schedule changes for victims.
Only one-third of teens who are in an abusive relationship tell anyone. But seeking help–like the legal protections that Georgia Legal Services attorneys can offer–can effectively stop a problem that might otherwise negatively impact one’s life in the long-term.
“If I can reach you before it gets to that stage, I won’t have to represent you in court a few years from now,” says Daniel.
Georgia ranks among the worst in terms of states with high prevalence of teen dating violence.