High schoolers urge senators to pass law addressing teen dating violence

MAYA T. PRABHU/STAFF Ridge View High School junior Lynnise Brown tells senators they need to address teen dating violence.

COLUMBIA — High school students made an impassioned plea to state senators Wednesday to strengthen laws surrounding teen dating violence, with many of them admitting to being domestic violence survivors themselves.

“Love is not abuse,” said Ridge View High School junior Jesni Sam . “It’s a small statement but it’s very strong. Abuse comes from anger, control and manipulation, not love. Unfortunately many teenagers I’m around do not know that.”

The bill would give 16-year-olds the ability to get a restraining order without parental consent, and require that teen violence education be taught in public schools.

The bill is unlikely to pass the Legislature this year due to being introduced so late in the session.

What started as a project for a group of juniors at Ridge View, in Columbia, after the murder of Rock Hill 18-year-old Sierra Landry, has turned into a passion for the teens. They vowed to be back next year if the bill, dubbed “Sierra’s law,” is not passed by the end of this session.

Landry was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend, Tanner Crolley, in 2013. Crolley is serving a 30-year prison sentence for her murder.

The teens told senators it’s important to teach young girls and boys what abuse looks like so they don’t become adults who are victims or perpetrators of domestic violence. South Carolina routinely ranks at the top of the list for women killed by men.

“Change must happen now,” student Mainaiya Myers said. “Change must happen to prevent abusive behavior from growing into adulthood. Change must happen to educate teenagers on the signs of unhealthy relationships, so they can escape before it’s too late.

“Change must happen to give parents their peace of mind when they send their children off to school where their abusers might attend, as well,” Myers continued. “Change must happen so teenagers can live to be the future of South Carolina and not be another heart-aching news story.”

Orangeburg Democrat Sen. Brad Hutto, who served as the chairman of a subcommittee considering the bill, told the students change — while important — takes time.

“Sometimes change takes a while,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to get this bill out of the Senate before the May 1 deadline. But change doesn’t happen by chance. Change happens when people take action.”

Subcommittee member Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, said he would like the bill to be debated so all of the “kinks” are worked out this year, potentially fast-tracking the law next session.

“As a prosecutor for 25 years, I am extremely aware of the problem,” he said. “The problem is very real and very important and it’s time to address it. We’re behind the curve on this one.”

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.