Programs address violence against kids, teens

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The Cartersville Public Library is hosting two programs that deal with a heavy subject — violence against children and teenagers.

Georgia Cares, a statewide nonprofit agency serving children who have been victimized by sex trafficking and exploitation, will be conducting Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Community Training Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Nathan Dean Meeting Room at the library at 429 W. Main St. 

All members of the community are invited to the free session, which will educate participants on the research related to child sex trafficking, the victimization of children and statistics for Georgia.

“We are hosting a training in Cartersville to raise awareness of the growing problem of child sex trafficking in our hopes to see child sex trafficking eradicated,” Georgia Cares Outreach Coordinator Robyn Windibank said. “We believe raising awareness to the community is crucial in prevention of child sex trafficking.”

Windibank called child sex trafficking a “rampant problem in Georgia.”

“Last year, Georgia Cares served 789 children, which was a 56 percent increase from 2017,” she said.

And the trafficking is not just a problem in the cities or more populated areas of the state. 

“Georgia Cares serves children who have been confirmed sex traffic victims all over the state of Georgia,” Windibank said. “We have received referrals from 134 counties [out of 159 counties] throughout Georgia and thus would say the entire state is vulnerable to this problem.”  

The goal of the training program is for participants to “understand the definition of domestic minor sex trafficking, to learn the federal and state legislation and laws that involve child sex trafficking, to recognize signs and indicators of child sex trafficking, to understand an accurate portrayal of a child sex trafficking victim and talking to the youth about the issue, to understand and recognize the influence of social media within child sex trafficking and to understand the process of supporting a child who has possibly been a victim of sex trafficking,” Windibank said.

The Georgia Cares representatives will be using videos, activities and discussion to provide an interactive training session that will help participants understand the trauma, abuse and victimization involved in child sex trafficking, learn how to fight against this horrific crime and become more familiar with the nonprofit. 

The organization operates a domestic minor sex trafficking hotline in Georgia — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — that provides “information to those who might be victims, assistance to law enforcement on the rescue of a victim and referrals for victim assistance,” Windibank said.

“Our hotline operators will assist the caller in coordinating emergency services at all hours of the day and night for youth who may be a victim of exploitation or trafficking,” she said. 

The nonprofit conducts a “research-based assessment both to youth that are confirmed victims of exploitation or for youth that have one or more indicators that child sex trafficking is occurring,” Windibank  said. 

“We then provide individual care and service planning to all confirmed victims of child sex trafficking,” she said. “Individual care planning is conducted with each youth’s input. Youth work with a care coordinator to identify goals, interests and supports that the youth identifies are needed in order to be successful. Utilizing the youth’s input, care coordinators connect the appropriate services needed to support the youth’s goals.”

The organization works hard to ensure that the plans are “holistic and comprehensive” and are serving the whole child, she added. 

Up to 100 adults can be accommodated at the training session, and there are no eligibility requirements to attend.

“Everyone is welcome,” Windibank said. “The more people we can [train to] raise awareness, the better.”

Those who want to participate are asked to register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dmst-community-training-cartersville-tickets-51265730179. Registration is open until the time of the training.  

A second event that will address another type of violence against young people is a Teen Chat About Dating Violence Tuesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the Nathan Dean Meeting Room. 

Three advocates from Tranquility House who have a passion for helping teens learn about healthy relationships — teen advocate LaTasha Harris, child advocate Micki Huskins and Assistant Director Luciana Philyaw — will be facilitating a discussion on teen dating violence that will include ways to protect oneself, what dating violence looks like, how to avoid it, how to help those in toxic relationships and where to go for help, support and resources.

“Relationship violence amongst teens is an extensive problem, often hidden in plain sight,” Tranquility House Executive Director Teresa Millsaps said. “Studies show one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend [2018 Fatality Review Project]. Tranquility House and the Cartersville library partnered to provide awareness and education about violence in dating relationships to teens. With this event, we want to increase awareness of healthy relationships and prevent relationship violence in our community. We want the teens in our community to know how to label the violence, talk about it and that there are options to get out.” 

Millsaps said one in three girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

“According to the 2018 Georgia Domestic Fatality Review, ‘studies have shown violent behavior often begins between the ages of 12 and 18, and violence in adolescent’s relationships puts victims at a higher risk for immediate and lifelong issues, including further domestic violence, substance abuse, eating disorders and risky sexual behaviors,’” she said. 

But girls aren’t the only ones who are abused in relationships. 

“Both boys and girls experience and perpetrate teen dating violence; often teens report that both partners committed aggressive acts during the relationship,” Millsaps said. “Research suggests that girls seem to suffer disproportionately from severe violence in relationships. Data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that adolescent girls are more likely than boys to be seriously injured or suffer sexual abuse as a result of dating violence.” 

Millsaps said the free interactive event, aimed at ages 12 to 19, will include information about the warning signs of an abusive relationship as well as a short video to “help engage the participants in the conversation.” 

“As this information is being shared, there will be discussions about how teens can help each other, how to recognize abuse, ways to keep oneself safe when in an abusive relationship, who can help and that they are not alone,” she said. 

Tranquility House’s goal is to “make sure we are having conversations about relationships and labeling what characteristics make a relationship unhealthy or abusive,” such as constant belittling, explosive tempers, pressure to have sex, isolation from friends, checking up on one’s partner, hitting, threatening, extreme jealousy or possessiveness, Millsaps said.

“The conversation will be dissecting some of these terms to identify what they mean and to encourage if something doesn’t feel right, you should have the freedom to voice your concerns and be respected by your partner,” she said. 

Teens can protect themselves from abusive relationships by knowing the warning signs that indicate their relationship is going in the wrong direction. 

“Relationships exist on a spectrum, making it hard to tell when a behavior crosses the line from healthy to unhealthy or abusive,” Millsaps said. “When teens know the signs, they are more likely to recognize when something isn’t right. Once a teen recognizes a red flag, the first step is to tell someone. Isolation, fear, embarrassment and confusion keep teens in violent relationships.” 

There is no limit on the number of teenagers who can participate in the Teen Chat discussion.

“The library and Tranquility House want as many teens as possible to join in this conversation,” Millsaps said. “There will be pizza and pastries for the teens to enjoy while talking.”

For young people who are victims of dating violence, Tranquility House has trained advocates who can help them identify “when their relationship has crossed the line to abusive,” Millsaps said. 

“We complete safety assessments, develop safety plans and provide support when teens need to talk with other adults about what has occurred,” she said. “We offer resources from our community and work closely with the statewide teen text line. Our legal advocates help file temporary protective orders.” 

Like Georgia Cares, the nonprofit has a 24-hour hotline — 770-386-8779 — that teens can call if they’re experiencing dating violence or they can send an online message by visiting www.tranquility-house.org and clicking on the Contact tab.