Baldwin County S.A.F.E. program

Baldwin County S.A.F.E. program director Linnesia Latimore Harris speaks to a group of students during last year’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

Friday marks the start of February as well as the beginning of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and the Baldwin County Office of the Solicitor General has more programs and events than ever before aimed at educating local youth on the subject.

Linnesia Latimore Harris, who has worked with the Solicitor General’s Office for 17 1/2 years, says that this year’s efforts are the most she’s seen locally.

“We’re going to be very, very, very busy in our community during the month of February, but we’re happy to be able to do so,” Harris said. “We’re working around our court schedules and appointment schedules, but this is very important.”

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of abuse or threat of abuse against teenaged dating partners. It occurs in different forms, including verbal, emotional, physical, sexual and digital. The NRCDV states that approximately 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner, and that 3 out of 4 parents have never discussed domestic violence issues with their children. 

Harris said Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month needs to be observed locally because cases that fall into that category are on the rise.

“Teen dating violence is on the increase, sadly, because what we’re seeing is an increase in the number of young couples that we are working cases on,” Harris said. “Once a person turns 17 years old and is arrested on domestic violence that is a misdemeanor like a simple battery, family violence, or things of that nature then they can be prosecuted in our office. We’re seeing an increase in the 17 to early 20s age group. We want to try and curb that and nip it in the bud to help those who are already in the throes of an unhealthy relationship at such a young age and try to stop those who may be headed that way from going that route.”

The Baldwin County Office of the Solicitor General, through its S.A.F.E. program, under Harris’ direction, hopes to combat that increase with education by going into the local schools and discussing teen dating violence with the students. 

“Many times when we are youthful we have a fantasy about what love is, and we’re hoping we can catch our youth at a young enough age where we can inform them about what is healthy and what is unhealthy as well as some red flags to look out for.

“We also have to meet them where they are because we’re having to deal with this new age of technology,” Harris went on. “Things are not the same as they were 10, 15, or 20 years ago when it comes to dating. There are so many ways that you can connect to people now and our young people are very fluent in that area. … Teen dating violence isn’t just about the physical aspect, but also the mental anguish because we’ve seen an increase in cyberbullying especially in relationships.”

The Solicitor General’s Office has at least 10 events related to teen dating violence spread throughout February. The first will be held at Milledgeville City Hall Friday at 10 a.m. where Mayor Mary Parham-Copelan is scheduled to sign a proclamation declaring February Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month in the City of Milledgeville. The Baldwin County Board of Commissioners will follow suit on the county’s behalf Tuesday, Feb. 5, during their meeting in the Baldwin County Courthouse. The S.A.F.E. program will go into Baldwin High School Feb. 8 for a luncheon honoring Maxine Blackwell, Baldwin County’s previous solicitor general who died last year, and introducing new Solicitor J. Skye Gess. Programming will also be held at Oak Hill Middle School and at Georgia College Early College, and Harris wants other local schools not participating to know that it’s not too late to reach out.

“We are thankful to the schools that have reached out to us and invited us,” she said. “We hope we can touch on every school, even the ones that haven’t invited us yet. We hope they come on board because the information we have to offer them is something that needs to be shared.”

Other important dates throughout the month include Feb. 12, when everyone is encouraged to wear orange, as it’s the chosen color to promote teen dating violence awareness, and also Feb. 20, when BHS will host a Walk Against Domestic Violence at the football stadium at 5:30 p.m.

Harris credits a positive relationship with Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price, who helped spread the word to schools, for the increase in teen dating violence awareness events this year. 

The S.A.F.E. program director also credited Baldwin County’s new solicitor for picking up right where Blackwell left off in supporting these teen dating violence awareness activities locally.

“We’re really hoping that we can reach as many young people as possible,” said Harris. “I’m so thankful that our solicitor general, Mrs. Gess, is very much an advocate for helping our young and making sure that they know there are resources available. She’s a tremendous leader, and she’s ready to do great things in the community.”

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