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South Ga. organization works to raise awareness on teen dating violence

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 10:10 PM EST
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - Teen dating violence has significantly increased in the last few years, according to experts.

The most recent incident in Valdosta happened Saturday morning when 17-year-old DaNedra Sessoms was found shot to death.

Police said is Kendrick Mitchell, Sessoms’ boyfriend, is a suspect.

Mitchell is wanted on charges of felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime in connection to the shooting death of his girlfriend.

The Haven in Valdosta is working to tackle the issue of teen dating violence and raise awareness to help teens and their parents.

Taylor Strickland with the Haven said they’ve noticed the issue increasing in the last few years. She said the organization is working to teach teens about healthy relationships

“We often think of dating violence as an adult problem or a marriage problem but it often starts as early as the sixth grade. Abusive behaviors start between 11 and to 16 years old and those patterns begin then,” explained Strickland.

Strickland said targeting the issue at an early age helps avoid behaviors growing into abusive patterns.

Red flags include jealousy, social media abuse, keeping tabs on posts and locations. For teens, these could be considered sweet and protective behaviors, but they aren’t.

“There’s definitely a lack of communication between parents and teens. That maturity level isn’t there yet and they often confide in their friends and their friends often have the same identity of relationships as they do. So, they really don’t give the best advice. It’s kind of like the blind leading the blind,” said Strickland.

Strickland said the Haven started a pilot program, a teen advisory board in Lanier County. The plan is to provide resources and education to a small group of teens in the school and then they spread the information and help each other.

Eventually, they hope to expand to other school districts.

Strickland said its crucial for parents build trust with their kids and talk to them about healthy relationships.

“For teens who are experiencing dating abuse, you might not even have the label on it as abusive, but if you just feel like you’re not happy in the relationship, just reach out and talk to somebody. You can call the Haven, talk to your parents,” said Strickland.

In the case of Sessoms, Mitchell is still at large and is wanted by police. If you have any information on his whereabouts, you are urged to call 911.

Kendrick Mitchell
Kendrick Mitchell(Valdosta Police Department)

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