Beaufort News

Ridgeland sophomore battles dating violence as 'senator for a day'

Sixteen-year-old Bre'Anna Orr worried when a friend confided that her boyfriend frequently yelled at her.

Though he abused her verbally, he never hurt her physically, the friend insisted.

"But statistics tell us that is where it is headed," Orr said.

The Ridgeland High School sophomore wants to increase awareness of domestic violence among teenagers and expand the state's definition of criminal domestic violence to recognize teens who are dating. State law now limits domestic violence offenses to spouses or couples who live together or share a child.

Orr got a chance to share her ideas with legislators last week after winning the annual "Senator for a Day" contest sponsored by the Jasper County Legislative Delegation and some businesses. She represented the Boys & Girls Club of Jasper County and competed against students from Jasper County schools by outlining her ideas for a bill in a speech contest.

In addition to a $500 college scholarship, Orr won a trip to Columbia, where she met with several state senators and other officials. Among them was Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, who has advocated legislation that would protect teens from dating violence.

Leventis said he plans to review Orr's bill and perhaps incorporate her ideas into a bill he has filed. His bill would create a model that schools must follow for reporting and responding to dating violence at school.

"Her focus on this real and very pressing problem was just wonderful," he said.

Leventis and Orr said they want to see teenagers engaging in dating violence get help as early as possible, before it rises to the criminal level, and make counseling available to the victims and abusers.

Orr said there is not enough awareness of dating violence among her peers, and she wants to see structured school programs that describe the warning signs. That way, if a victim isn't seeking help, a friend might notice the problem and report it to an adult who can intervene.

"They might be kind of mad at their friend, but in the end, there will be a greater good," she said. "Kids out there need our help."

Orr, who hopes to become an obstetrician/gynecologist, said she was encouraged to pursue her ideas by the warm reception she received in Columbia.

"To be up there with everyone and be referred to as Sen. Orr, it was an indescribable experience," she said. "Just doing something like a speech contest can open up doors you would never imagine. I got a lot of business cards."