Thompson High School student Shakira Hudson was 15 when she was killed. Audrey Atkinson of Covington was 19. Jasmine Harris of Atlanta was 17 and pregnant.
All three died in 2010. Boyfriends or ex-boyfriends were charged with their murders.
The girls’ deaths were among 130 recorded by the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence in the 2010 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Report, the largest number of such homicides since the first annual report in 2003. The report was released at a news conference at the state capitol Wednesday.
Already this year, the agencies have recorded the death of 16-year-old Angel Freeman who was shot through the chest. Clayton County police arrested her 15-year-old on-again-off-again boyfriend.
Although teenagers represent a small percentage of such deaths, they are of increasing concern to law enforcement agencies, courts and victims’ advocates. Violent teen-aged relationships can have long-term repercussions. In almost 30 percent of a sampling of 75 domestic homicide cases, the victims were teenagers when they began their relationship with the person who eventually killed them. Five were only 15 when the relationship started.
“These are troubling statistics,” said Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein. “It may be important for school systems to get involved in addressing the issues of domestic violence.”
Hunstein chaired a commission formed by the Supreme Court in 1989 that looked at issues of gender bias statewide. That commission’s recommendations resulted in creation of the Commission on Family Violence.
The 1989 commission heard mostly from adults, Hunstein said. She said she found statistics on violence among dating teenagers in the 2010 report somewhat surprising.
“I don’t know whether it’s a new phenomenon,” she said, “but it certainly needs to be addressed.”
Several national studies reflect the prevalence of abusive relationships among teenagers. A 2008 report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus found that about one in three teenage girls in the United States is a victim of verbal, emotional or physical abuse from a dating partner. And a 2009 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that people 18 and 19 years old are the most frequent victims of stalking.
A separate 2009 study found that in many cases, friends know of the situation. Four in ten teenagers 14 to 17 years old reported having a friend hit or hurt by a boyfriend. Yet 68 percent of teens who had experienced abusive dating relationships said they never confided in their parents.
“Our intention is to encourage community outreach to address this knowledge gap on the part of parents,” the 2010 Georgia report says.
Teenagers who won’t or can’t confide in parents have little recourse in the state’s legal system.
“Georgia law excludes teenagers and young adult victims who are dating but have never lived with their abuser (or who do not share children) from petitioning for a Temporary Protective Order,” the report says. And the “pattern of behavior” necessary to receive an order under the stalking statute is difficult to prove.
The state might be able to prevent some deaths by giving teenagers easier access to protective orders, said Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Peggy Walker, chair of the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
“We allow them to make decisions regarding their health and reproductive systems,” she said. “The question becomes what do we do similarly in cases of abuse if young people decide not to involve their families.”
Escaping contact with an abuser is often difficult for a teenager because both may attend the same school and have mutual friends. Embarrassment or shame may also prevent a victim from seeking help.
“Annabelle,” an 18-year-old girl whose story is told at length in the report, survived an attack by an ex-boyfriend who later committed suicide in front of her. She had reported his abuse to the sheriff but wondered whether she was overreacting.
Parents, teachers, faith leaders, employers and friends might be able to intervene in a teen relationship if they learn the danger signals, officials said.
Many assaults occur when a victim has ended or intends to end the relationship. A victim is at high risk if the abuser has exhibited extreme jealousy, is depressed or has talked about suicide, is a heavy user of alcohol or drugs, has a history of making threats or stalking and has access to weapons.
Georgia ranks tenth in the country in overall domestic violence deaths, said state Attorney General Sam Olens.
Since 2003, the year covered by the first annual report, 962 Georgians have died because of domestic violence.
“Reading this report, I see how much further we have to go,” Olens said.