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Wolfe/Voss Legislation Would Establish Prevention Taskforce, Require Education on the Subject for Middle, High Schoolers

The full Senate on Monday granted final legislative approval to a bipartisan bill sponsored by Assemblyman David W. Wolfe and Assemblywoman Joan M. Voss to help prevent and combat dating violence among middle and high school students.

The measure was approved by the Assembly last week by a vote of 77-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

“Teen dating abuse is far more prevalent than most realize. It’s a silent epidemic that affects more than 1.5 million students annually, the consequences of which often results in serious injury and even death,” stated Wolfe (R-Ocean/Monmouth). “We need to do more than merely ‘allow’ our school officials to educate on matters of dating abuse. Such education must be mandatory.”

“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.”

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;
– information on the warning signs of dating violence and community resources available to address it;
– 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.

School districts would also be allowed to implement their own dating violence policy, which must contain, at a minimum, the above components developed by the task force. Furthermore, the bill would require DOE to recommend educational reDests on the topic of dating violence.

“For far too long students and parents alike have not been fully aware of this life-threatening problem,” added Wolfe. “Teens need to learn what a healthy relationship is and how to protect themselves if it should become abusive. This legislation will provide our children with the necessary tools to get help for themselves and their friends if needed.”

“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.