The recent violence prevention forum hosted by the One Boro Commission unpacked several screen-loads of statistics as the victim services and advocacy organizations Safe Haven and The Teal House, as well as police agencies, sought to show the community the size of the problem.
But one point that presenters kept coming back to is that the victims of violence are real people, here in our community, and many of them are children. Around 35 to 40 people, distanced within the big multipurpose room of Georgia Southern University’s Military Science Building, attended the forum the morning of March 6.
Lakeidra Lee, executive director of The Teal House, also known as Statesboro Regional Sexual Assault and Child Advocacy Center, asked the audience to imagine a night in the life of the center’s nurses, its advocates and her. They may go home expecting a peaceful night but can receive a call at any time.
“Take a deep breath and just walk through a night in our shoes,” Lee said. “Your phone rings at 2 a.m. and it is an investigator from the Statesboro Police Department. He is informing you that he will meet you at The Teal House in about an hour because there is a 7-year-old that has been sexually assaulted by a caregiver.”
After meeting with the officer, Teal House professionals greet the child and an adult they hope is a non-offending caregiver at the back door to begin either a medical examination or an interview of a 7-year-old in the middle of the night.
This hypothetical story apparently doesn’t stray far from repeated real ones. In 2020, The Teal House provided services in 36 sexual assault or abuse cases just in Statesboro and Bulloch County. In 10 of the cases, the victims were under 18 years old. Lee noted that the youngest was age 22 months.
In another 17 cases, the victims were ages were 18-23 years old, and all of these were college and university students.
“When we were looking at our statistics, we looked at those and all of them were enrolled either at Georgia Southern, East Georgia or Ogeechee Tech,” she said.
In the remaining nine cases, the victims were ages 24 and up.
“Every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted,” Lee said, displaying a slide with statistics from RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “Every nine minutes, that victim is a child.”
The Teal House serves the four Ogeechee Judicial Circuit counties – Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven – but Lee focused on Bulloch for the Statesboro forum.
About seven nurses, including registered nurses and a family nurse practitioner, serve on the center’s staff to perform forensic medical examinations.
About four trained advocates take turns answering The Teal House’s 24-7 crisis hotline. The number is 1-866-489-2225.
“Not all victims want to come in and do an examination,” Lee said. “Sometimes they want to just talk to us about their assault, which our trained advocates definitely listen. Because we are a non-judgmental, non-biased organization, we never encourage them (to file a report). We provide options.”
Adult victims have those options to talk confidentially on the phone to the advocates or to come in and make a report if they want law enforcement involved.
“When it comes to our children, there is no option,” Lee added. “We definitely, because we are mandated reporters, we have to report.”
Follow-up medical services, advocacy and counseling are other services The Teal House provides, all free to victims of sexual violence.
The nonprofit organization also has a community outreach specialist but can’t do it alone, Lee told forum participants.
Community education work by the Teal House includes, among other things, teaching teens and young adults about social media safety and precautions for online dating.
“We try to provide education for parents and caregivers of children of young age,” Lee said. “It’s very important that you have a conversation with your children, or your young adult, about sexual assault. … There is no foolproof way to protect children from sexual abuse, but there are steps we can take together to reduce the risks.”
Kimberly Billings, public relations and legal services director for Safe Haven, the Statesboro-based domestic violence protection, prevention and services organization, brought different statistics but a similar message.
“If somebody tells you that they’re being abused or they’re experiencing domestic violence, please believe them,” Billings said. “Please refer them to our organization, to law enforcement, to a trusted person. Please tell them that it’s not OK, that they deserve a healthy relationship.”
She further advises individuals helping in such situations, “Avoid judgement, do not confront the abuser and be careful.”
Nationally, domestic violence affects one in four women, one in seven men, and one in three teenagers, according to stats Billings presented.
She noted that “it can happen to anyone” and that 15% of the people Safe Haven helps are male. But 85% are female, and “on average, every nine seconds a woman in the United States is beaten by her partner.”
However, domestic violence takes many forms besides physical assaults, Billings noted. These include economic abuse, isolation, threats, sexual violence, stalking, and now, violence via social media, texting and other digital means.
“Domestic violence is the most common cause of injury to women in the United States, more common than common than mugging, car accidents…,” she said.
Women ages 20-24 are the group most often injured.
Domestic violence is not an anger issue or isolated incidents, but “about power and control … a tool used to manipulate and intimidate other people in the relationship,” Billings said.
Safe Haven’s mission is to “to serve, shelter and support victims and their children,” in Bulloch, Candler, Effingham, Jenkins, Screven and Washington counties.
The shelter and its crisis line are open 24 hours a day. The phone number is (912) 764-4605. Safe Haven also has an outreach building at 204 North College St., Statesboro, open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
With people staying home because of the pandemic, the number of nights of safe shelter the organization provided fell to 6,679 in 2020, from 24,120 nights in 2019. But the number of individuals served rose, from 435 in 2019 to 479 in 2020, as did the count of all service units provided. Besides shelter, Safe Haven assists clients with temporary protective orders, legal services, transportation and help with medial and other needs.
Chief Mike Broadhead of the Statesboro Police Department and Chief Laura McCullough of the Georgia Southern University Police Department presented crime statistics from their jurisdictions and facts about their departments. Broadhead also summarized Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office statistics in the absence of Sheriff Noel Brown, who was attending a funeral.
After the presentations, Stacy Smallwood, Ph.D., vice chair of the One Boro Commission, led the question and answer session.
“Within this room we have some of the brightest minds and the most dedicated hearts in Statesboro and Bulloch County,” Smallwood said, “and this is an opportunity for us to put both of those to use in order to figure out how we can indeed secure Statesboro, what are the solutions that we need … to help us not only stay safe but become even safer.”
The creation of a Violence Prevention Task Force to build on existing efforts is one of several initiatives of One Boro, a commission established by Statesboro’s city government.
Video of the two-hour forum, including the slides, is available on the OneBoroStatesboro page on Facebook.