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Stopping teen domestic violence before it starts
About 150 youth from Rockdale and Newton counties gathered at Springfield Baptist Church for a summit focused on teen domestic violence. - photo by Submitted Photo

Audrey Curray is glad she resisted the urge to sleep in on a recent Saturday morning. Instead, the Rockdale teenager and about 150 other area youth and adults gathered in late October at Springfield Baptist Church for a summit focused on teen domestic violence.

After several informational, interactive and dramatic sessions, Curray admitted being happy she made the effort to attend.

"Under no circumstance is it ever OK for teens to abuse each other," Curray said when asked to reflect on the summit's main message.

Debbie Hillman co-chaired the planning committee for the event titled "Know Your Rights," which was sponsored by the NewRock Legal Society, Springfield Baptist, Delta Sigma Theta, Stone Mountain-Lithonia Chapter and Alpha Kappa Alpha (Conyers-Covington Chapter). She says the primary goal of the summit, held during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, was to shed increased light on a growing problem in Georgia. Michelle Fonville showed up to support her daughter, who was part of a dramatization emphasizing root causes of teen domestic violence. Later, while in a session for parents, Fonville shared that she dealt with domestic violence as a teen, herself.

"Domestic violence is a huge issue that often gets overshadowed by breast cancer awareness this time of year," she said.

According to Judge Daphne Walker, Georgia has the nation's highest rate of teen dating violence. She told summit attendees that one in three Georgia teens has experienced some form of it, whether physical, mental or emotional.

"If you're getting 250 (text) messages a day from a person you're in a relationship with, that's probably not a good relationship," Walker said, speaking directly to teens in the audience. In addition to public speaking engagements, Walker created the Partnership Against Domestic Violence as a means of impacting the incidence of domestic violence not only in Georgia, but throughout the country. She, along with Rockdale Chief Magistrate Judge Phinia Aten, spent the morning sharing their professional knowledge of the issue - and for Aten, personal recollections as well. Aten grew teary-eyed when talking about her stepsister abused at the hands of a teenaged boyfriend. Eventually, Aten says, he abducted and raped her stepsister - before going to jail for the offenses.

"Domestic violence can have a lasting impact," Aten says. "It's very important for parents to take it seriously."

To this end, Aten distributed a Teen Domestic Violence Prevention Tools for Parents handout and noted that only one in 11 incidences of teen domestic violence are reported. Meantime, she encouraged summit attendees to support legislation proposed by State Rep. Dee Dawkins Haigler that would require public schools in Georgia to offer classes focused on domestic violence.