COLUMBUS, Ga. — Red, white, and pink are the most popular colors on Valentine’s Day. They all represent romance and love. Some may be blue for Valentine’s. But one local organization is raising awareness for teen dating violence by wearing another color. Hope Harbour in Columbus is participating in a national trend to wear orange. The orange symbolizes awareness for teen dating violence.

Tiarra Williams is the community education coordinator for Hope Harbour. She says Georgia leads the pack nationwide when it comes to the prevalent problem of teen dating violence.

“So that’s why I believe it’s so important to wear orange on Valentine’s Day to promote healthy relationships,” Williams said.

Williams promotes healthy relationships through outreach programs at schools across six counties in the Chattahoochee Valley, as well as Fort Benning. She even teaches kids as young as eight or nine. Williams says many kids are misinformed about what violence looks like.

“A lot of them say wow, that’s abuse? I thought that was normal.”

Williams vividly remembers going through dating abuse as a young 20-year-old. She says her experience severely lowered her self-esteem. She mentions red flags for unhealthy relationships.

  1. Isolation: Any time anyone tries to get you alone, beware of these tendencies. Many times, abusers like to keep people away from getting help or reaching out to anyone else.
  2. Possessiveness: An abuser will typically want you to himself or herself. Williams warns people to be mindful that people should be making their own decisions. Coercion is not love.
  3. Controlling behavior: Power and control are the key attributes of an abuser in a relationship. If someone wants to do something, watch for attempts to keep them from acting freely.

“I didn’t know how to love myself,” Williams said. “I didn’t know my worth. I didn’t know my value. I just wanted love.”

Williams believes teens are constantly pressured by societal norms and social media to find love, just to avoid being labeled a loner.

“They feel like they have to have sex with them or they’ll be harassed or talked about,” Williams explained. “They’re going to be seen a certain way. If they do or don’t, there may be rumors about them. So it’s definitely prevalent.”

Williams says positive change comes when people learn to love themselves. Williams says if the relationship is not healthy, it’s not worth it. For teens in abusive relationships, Williams suggests that they get to know themselves and avoid negative social interaction both in person and online.

“When you learn that you’re worthy and worth more, and you don’t deserve this, that’s when you can turn to someone else and reach out for help. You can break those barriers of isolation and know that this is not the relationship I want to be in, or desire to be in, or deserve to be in.”