Teen dating violence: Locals look for answers

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Miss (WTOK) - According to national figures from loveisrespect.org , one out of every three adolescents is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from someone who he or she is dating. As part of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, Newscenter 11 is taking a look at some of the warning signs and solutions.

Experts say it's important to remember that dating violence doesn't just begin in college. In fact, local specialists say there are reports of it starting as early as middle school.

"Some people may feel trapped, and believe it or not dating abuse is occurring as early as 6th grade with some of these kids," says Shaletha Onyekwuluje, who is Prevention Educator with Wesley House Community Center in Meridian.

"Here are some of the things that the perpetrator might do:
1. Are they trying to isolate you from your friends and your family?
2. Are they hitting you?
3. Are they verbally being abusive to you? Calling you out of your name?," says Onyekwuluje.

Experts say the control that leads to the abuse can show up in many different ways. This includes with one partner possibly checking the other partner's cellphone regularly for calls or messages, or by calling the partner much more than needed.

Sara Smith is a Community Coordinator with Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter in Meridian. She says another common problem is sexting. During her local school visits, she says most students say they have received sexually explicit pictures.

"Usually 80% to 100% of them will say more than I can count," says Smith.

In many cases she says the person who's on the picture is often harassed after sharing it with whom he or she is dating.

"That is a major problem right now with the use of technology and creating fear in other people. Exploiting them. Blackmailing them. We call it sextortion," says Smith. "If they're being bullied it can lead to issues of suicide and self harm and isolation with withdrawal from friends and the social atmosphere."

That's why Smith and officials from Wesley House say it's important to take claims of teen dating violence seriously.

"Well, if nothing is done to address this type of abuse it's going to continue to get worse," says Deana Weems, who is a Victims' Therapist at Wesley House. "Eventually someone will be harmed more than likely. If nothing else they will be emotionally abused."

Victims of these type crimes are advised to report these cases to their local authorities, parents or officials at Wesley House or Care Lodge.
The number for Wesley House is (601) 485-4736, and the number at Care Lodge is (601) 482-8719.

Tuesday, February 13th is National Wear Orange 4 Love Day. It's an effort to draw attention to teen dating abuse. The day was started by the National Youth Advisory Board.