“Violence of the voice is often only the death rattle of reason in the throat.”
— John Frederick Boyes
“The man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out.”
— Chinese proverb
Jennifer had fallen in with the wrong crowd. Formerly an above-average student with no disciplinary problems, she had begun to get in trouble at school. Her grades were slipping. Frequently, she did not come home when her parents told her to and for long stretches of the day they could not locate her and she would not respond to their phone calls or text messages.
Then she began skipping school. Her mother or father would drive her to the front door and watch her go inside, but within an hour, they’d have a call from the school office that she was not in the building and had not reported to class. As her behavior become more and more unusual, they became convinced that drug use was the root cause. More worrisome even than that, they had begun to notice marks on her arms and face.
Finally, they decided to seek help. They made an appointment for mental health and drug and alcohol evaluations, and they waited until the day before to tell their daughter that the appointments were made and they would pick her up from school. They weren’t asking — she had to go to them. The following day they arrived at school to pick her up but she wasn’t there. She had been present at school all day to avoid a phone call home, but at the end of the day she had disappeared.
She couldn’t ask her friends to harbor her because her parents would eventually look for her there. Really, her friends’ homes weren’t the places she wanted to be anyway. But the 24-year-old man in Columbus who had been supplying her with drugs and taking her to parties for months had said that she could come and stay there.
Jennifer is not any one single juvenile who has been before me in court but rather an amalgamation of circumstances that are all too commonly repeated. Far too often we see young women who have been taken advantage of by an older man, plied with drugs and alcohol, and in many cases, abused emotionally, physically or sexually. Their circumstances are not being ignored.
Nationwide, nearly one in 10 teens report suffering abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend in the previous year. Two-thirds of those young men and women report that they are too afraid or too embarrassed to tell their parents. Contrary to public expectations, studies of middle school students show that more boys than girls report being the victim of teen violence.
Abuse is not the only danger. Teens are the most likely to be stalked. They are least likely to recognize and react appropriately to danger signs. They are the most frequent victims of sexting and similar technology-based offenses.
Since 2010, Congress has declared February to be “Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.” Governor DeWine has signed a proclamation in Ohio establishing the month at a statewide level as well. Among the agencies assisting families in Ohio is the Family Violence Prevention Center, a program of the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services. The Center’s Advisory Council is led by Chrystal Alexander, administrator of the ODRC Office of Victim Services, who previously served as the first director of the Office of Victim Services in Delaware County. The center’s website at www.ocjs.ohio.gov is a treasure trove of information for teens, parents, and families, and it includes the Teen Dating Violence Brochure, the Family Violence Prevention Toolkit, and links to dozens of other sites and organization that can be of assistance.
Another great resource is the Human Trafficking Commission led by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. The Human Trafficking Commission is led by its chief counsel, former Delaware County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien. The commission’s website contains a wealth of information and can be found at www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/humantrafficking.
Our court has recently received a grant to hire a human trafficking prevention and education coordinator, and County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel’s Victim Services Unit is under the direction of Trish Wright. Among the many services it provides is assisting persons looking to file for protection orders against or for juveniles.
Through awareness, assistance, and active prevention in the home and at school, progress is being made. You can learn more at www.teendvmonth.org.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served as magistrate, court administrator, and now judge, since 2003. He has written a weekly column on law and history for The Gazette since 2005.