Organization calls teen dating abuse an "epidemic"

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, and victim's advocate Linda Snelling is spreading the word about the domestic violence cases she's seen over the years and the one that took her daughter's life.

"Buffy died on November 21st, 1995," she said. "When she was 17, she met the man who would eventually kill her."

South Carolina ranks second in the nation for women killed by men, a South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault study says. The study also says a quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse.

Almost half of women victims experienced their first rape before the age of 18 (30% between 11-17 years old and 12% at or before the age of 10), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2001, three teenage women were killed by someone whom they were in a relationship with in Horry County.

Snelling can recall each of their cases. On Wednesday, she told the story of 18-year-old Natalia Holmes.

"On the morning of May 18th, 2006, her boyfriend who was 26-years-old stabbed her to death in front of Carolina Forest High School. There were several people who tried to stop him," Snelling said.

In 2008, Edwin Cornelius plead guilty to Holmes murder. He received a life sentence.

The Break the Cycle organization, which empowers youth in an effort to end domestic violence, says "Dating abuse isn't just a big issue. It's a growing epidemic."

"A lot of times teenagers don't realize what's going on with them is domestic violence," Snelling said. "They don't think that someone their own age can commit a crime against you."

Most young people who display violent behavior often grow up watching their parents' own domestic violence, according to Snelling.

"I've actually taught classes to teen girls and have them tell me to my face, 'If my man don't hit me, he don't love me'," Snelling said. "If you have a son and he grows up watching you abuse his mother, well he just knows that is the way you treat a women."

She advises that parents talk with their children at a young age about the issue.

"You need to talk, explain this to your child, what is acceptable," Snelling said.

Warning signs of teen dating violence include contacting a significant other nearly 20 times a day to find their whereabouts, seclusion from family and friends and verbal and emotional abuse.