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Domestic violence: Its time to start the conversation
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Responding to a call, a Hall County deputy found a 19-year-old girl beaten by the trim torn off the closet door where she was hiding. The suspect was her partner, authorities said.

The battered woman clung to the shelving to keep from being dragged from the closet only to have it ripped off the wall in her partner’s rage, Hall County Sheriff’s deputies said. This happened in Hall County.

Domestic violence is closer than you think. In fact, eight people in Hall County died because of domestic violence between 2010 and 2014.

On Oct. 1, the Hall County Domestic Violence Task Force held a teen dating domestic violence briefing, in which Deputy Matthew Norman was recognized as the responding officer. He is also the domestic violence officer of the year.

Each high schooler has sat through a health class or assembly in which some authority figure gets up in front of a crowd and tells you if your parents, or boyfriend, or girlfriend hits you, that’s bad. But how many take it seriously?

Often, teens think this kind of thing doesn’t happen in their hometown or it couldn’t happen to them. The truth is, that isn’t the case.

One in three teenagers are or will be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, according to Project Safe in Athens. Of those, only a third seek help, the nonprofit stated in an informational brochure.

Project Safe works to end domestic violence in the community through prevention and education programs, crisis intervention, ongoing supportive services for survivors of domestic violences and their children.

Two-thirds of teens in an abusive or unhealthy relationship suffer through, thinking they did something to deserve it or that it will get better.

“Once a girl has been intimate with someone, she makes a lot of excuses (for his behavior),” North Hall High School counselor Kathy Oxford said.

There are, however, no excuses.

Programs such as Project Safe based in Athens aim to help teens realize it. Project Safe developed an initiative in 2013 called Breaking Silence, a text line where teens can reach out and ask questions to a group of interns working at Project Safe. Teens can talk about or ask anything without revealing their identity. This allows the teens to remain anonymous and share details without any repercussions.

Since its creation, Breaking Silence has been a part of 358 conversation in 32 counties, community involvement and career coordinator April Byrne said.

“Twenty-three percent of our conversations are about dating violence and abuse, and another 23 percent are about unhealthy relationship habits,” Byrne said. “The tone of the conversation isn’t usually urgent and is venting which is a great time to try to start prevention.”

Sometimes, though, prevention doesn’t reach the future victims fast enough. Most violence typically begins between the ages of 12 and 18, according to Project Safe. In addition, women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of violence between their partner.

“It screams the need for prevention starting earlier,” said Taylor Tabb, the fatality review project manager for Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

During the briefing last Thursday morning, Hall County Solicitor General Stephanie Woodard showed a video filmed by a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent’s son on his iPhone after hearing loud shouts coming from outside his house. The footage showed a conflict between a girl and the boy she was dating. He angrily approaches her car multiple times before repeatedly hitting her.

“Domestic violence doesn’t just start as an adult,” Woodard said. “The seeds are planted very young. This is not just a bad drama break up. We need to teach teens what isn’t healthy.”

There is a difference between unhealthy and abusive relationships, though.

“Unhealthy is kind of a broad term, but I always say if it feels wrong, it’s unhealthy,” Oxford said. “But when you’re talking about abusive, someone has been physically injured.”

Unhealthy relationship warning signs to look for are: an increase in depression; a partner who is overly bossy, doesn’t let his partner make decisions, loses his or her temper easily, becomes overly jealous and isolates his partner from family and friends.

Some signs of an abusive relationship are: less participation in activities; isolation from family; exhaustion; scratches and bruises around the neck, arms, and waist; significant changes in mood; and alterations to wardrobe that allows for concealment.

If you spot these signs, Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence offers these tips:
Start the conversation by telling the victim you care and are worried for their safety.
Don't make blaming statements such as “why don’t you just leave?” or give advice. Instead, ask what they think they should do or what do they feel is best for their safety.
Take a non-judgemental position. Studies show as abuse gets worse, the support a victim has decreases. Don’t judge the victim; instead, show love and support.
Don’t push printed material on the victim because if the partner finds it, it can increase the difficulty of the situation.

Part of assessing the issue of domestic violence is retraining the younger generations.

“Boys need to know that if they see someone hurting another person to say ‘Hey man. That’s not cool.’ or ‘Hey, don’t talk about a women that way. That’s degrading,’” Byrne said.

If you or someone you care about is in an abusive relationship, take action. Call Georgia’s 24 hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-334-2836.

Any teen wanting to reach the Breaking Silence text line with questions or in need of help because of an abusive situation can reach the text line at 706-765-8019.

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