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Wolfe/Voss Legislation Would Require Education on the Subject for Middle, High Schoolers, Training for Teachers

The Assembly Education Committee on Thursday released a bipartisan bill sponsored by Assemblyman David W. Wolfe and Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss requiring dating violence education for middle and high school students, and training to help faculty recognize and handle dating violence among students.

“The ramifications of dating violence can have a profound effect on a teen well into adulthood,” said Voss (D-Bergen). “It’s important that we empower our students to recognize the warning signs and understand that this is not normal or acceptable behavior. Hopefully this bill will go a long way towards preventing any unnecessary tragedies.”

“Teen dating violence is hurting and killing innocent children in our homes and communities,” stated Wolfe (R-Ocean/Monmouth). “It’s a growing public health issue. In fact, it’s a silent epidemic that is largely ignored by parents, schools and the media. Our goal is to prevent dating abuse before it begins through early education of both students and faculty.”

The bill (A-2920) requires the state Department of Education to establish a task force to develop a policy to prevent and address dating violence at school and requires school districts to incorporate age appropriate dating violence education into the health education curriculum.

According to the National Teen Dating Violence Prevention Project (NTDVPP), nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. One in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. Additionally, one-quarter of high school girls have been victims of physical or sexual abuse or date rape.

Under the bill, each school district will implement the policy developed by the task force, which must contain, at a minimum, the following components:

· a statement that dating violence will not be tolerated;
· dating violence reporting procedures;
· guidelines for responding to at-school incidents of dating violence; and
· discipline procedures specific to at-school incidents of dating violence.

The bill also requires the department to develop dating violence training materials to be posted on its website. Each school district will provide the dating violence training materials to school district staff who have significant contact with students to ensure that they are able to appropriately respond to incidents of dating violence. One of the components of the training materials would be information on appropriate school, family, peer, and community resources available to address dating violence.

“This is a problem that affects all teens regardless of gender or socioeconomic status,” said Wolfe. “Since most kids have no idea when they are being verbally or emotionally abused, all teens are potentially at risk. While parents should be responsible for protecting their children, we, as legislators have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable. Our best tool is our educational system and its teachers and staff.”

“Any parent knows that teens can be very secretive when it comes to their personal life so our schools may very well be the frontline of defense when it comes to preventing dating violence,” added Voss. “On a given day, teachers may spend more time around dating partners than parents. It’s important that we teach staff to be vigilant for destructive dating patterns.”

Finally, the bill requires boards of education to incorporate dating violence education that is age appropriate into the health education curriculum as part of the district’s implementation of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education for students in grades 7 through 12. The dating violence education will include information on the definition of dating violence, recognizing dating violence warning signs, and the characteristics of healthy relationships.

Voss noted that the ramifications of dating violence are equally profound. According to the NTDVPP, 50 percent of youth reporting both dating violence and rape also reported attempting suicide, compared to 12.5 percent of non-abused girls and 5.4 percent of non-abused boys. Furthermore, being physically or sexually abused leaves teen girls up to six times more likely to become pregnant and more than two times as likely to report an STD.