COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Unhealthy and abusive relationships can start early, and the harm can last a lifetime.
Georgia is the number one state in the nation for teen dating violence, and local experts said it's a big problem in Columbus, Ga. as well.
In honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, News Leader 9's Sara Lim met with local experts to look into this issue.
Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to use drugs, have multiple sex partners and abuse their friends and families as well. Abusive behaviors may include physical abuse like hitting, pinching, throwing items or sexual abuse or verbal abuse.
Kyle Bair, executive director of Sexual Assault Support Center, explained teen dating violence begins as young as sixth grade.
"You're talking about 10 to 12 years old," Bair explained. "A large percentage of people we see are 13 to 17 years old. Sometimes you will see as many as one in three high school girls in a dating violence relationship. The statistics are startling."
While many teenagers suffer from violent relationships, they also tend to hide this issue most of the time as well.
"Sometimes the teens will say they are afraid of getting in trouble," Bair said. "Often times, the teens are more afraid of their parents than they are of the actual problem."
Lindsey Reis, assistant director of Hope Harbour, also explained that parents and teenagers both need to be aware of some signs that indicate violent relationships.
"When people talk about domestic violence or dating violence, most people think about busted lips or black eyes," Reis said. "However, it can be pushing, hair pulling, scratching, and any kind of emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. It often starts with criticism and verbal abuse, and then comes the manipulative behavior then the violence."
Reis and Bair both said technology can be weapons of dating violence. One in 10 teenagers said they have been threatened via email, text messages and social media sites. One in five teenagers have been asked to engage in an unwanted sexual activity via cell phones.
"Education is important because the more we teach our children, the more we can talk to them," Reis said. "Children can also know their warning signs and learn to avoid dangerous relationships in the first place."
Hope Harbour and Sexual Assault Support Center visits different schools and groups, if asked to share information and lecture on teen dating violence, domestic violence and more.
You can call Sexual Assault Support Center at 706-22-1033, and their hotline is 706-571-6010
You can reach Hope Harbour at 706-256-0237, and their hotline is 706-324-3850.