The Baldwin County Solicitor General’s Office is taking the “education leads to prevention” approach to try and stop teen dating violence locally.
Solicitor General Skye Gess, her staff, as well as city and county officials came together at Baldwin High School Monday to educate local youth about the dangers of teen dating violence as part of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. County Commissioner Emily C. Davis, District 1, and interim City Manager Hank Griffeth both read proclamations on behalf of the local governments naming February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in Milledgeville and Baldwin County. About 50 Baldwin High students attended the Monday morning reading and heard the message firsthand.
“Today is not only about bringing awareness to the issue of dating violence, but also to honor and support our young advocates who will lead the charge for the next generation in hopes of breaking the cycle,” Gess said.
One statistic brought up multiple times throughout Monday’s proceedings was that one in three American teenagers is a victim of some form of abuse from a dating partner whether it be physical, sexual, emotional or verbal. The solicitor general brought those numbers a little closer to home when she shared local school enrollment counts. There are about 2,400 students in grades 6-12 (statistics show that incidents occur as early as sixth grade, she said) in the Baldwin County School District, so about 800 of them may experience dating violence. Of that number, only about 33 percent report the problems they are facing, so more than 500 could be suffering silently.
“When I did that calculation it kind of blew me away to think about that many people right here in Baldwin County that might experience dating violence,” Gess said. “We want to make sure we have healthy and safe students here in Baldwin County. We want to encourage you because you are the next generation of advocates.”
After the short program, Gess spoke with the media about why she feels demonstrations like the one held Monday are necessary.
“As a prosecutor I've noticed a trend,” she said. “We’re seeing younger victims and defendants who are committing crimes that are domestic violence crimes. I believe it’s very important to spread education and awareness about domestic violence and teen dating violence to hopefully curb what’s happening.”
So what are some signs teens could look for to let them know they might be in a dating violence situation?
“A lot of times it starts out as possessiveness,” the solicitor general said.
What begins as taking a partner’s phone or asking for social media passwords could turn into something much worse.
In addition to Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, the solicitor general’s office also hosts programming in support of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which occurs in October each year. The solicitor’s office also houses the county’s victims’ services program, an outlet available to victims of domestic violence.
Gess encouraged students who think they are in a dating violence relationship to reach out to her office. For those too scared or embarrassed to do so or speak to an adult, Georgia does have a teen dating violence text line where teens can send messages for help at 706-765-8019.
A number of other events and programs are slated throughout February locally in support of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The solicitor general’s office will host a paint party for girls today and Baldwin High School’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) group is holding its annual walk against teen dating violence Thursday at the BHS football stadium. The walk is set to begin at 5 p.m. and is open to the public.