Jul 28, 2011
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Legislation Aims To Reduce High Rates of Teen Dating Violence in U.S.

Democratic and Republican legislators have joined together to introduce legislation to help schools address the problem of teen dating violence

Washington, DC – In the wake of a growing number of teenagers killed from dating violence, Democratic and Republican legislators have joined together to introduce legislation to help schools address the problem of teen dating violence.

The “Stop Abuse for Every Teen Act” or SAFE Teen Act will be introduced on Thursday by U.S. Representatives Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), both champions of domestic and dating violence victims. U.S. Senators Michael Crapo (R-ID) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the companion bill in the Senate.

“Teen dating violence has become the rule, not the exception,” said Esta Soler, Founder and President of Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund. “A large part of the reason the Institute of Medicine just recommended domestic violence and intimate partner violence screening as part of preventive health care is due to the alarming prevalence of dating violence among young people.”

About 72% of 8th and 9th graders report dating; 1 in 4 adolescents reports emotional, physical, or sexual violence each year; and 1 in 10 adolescents reports being a victim of physical dating violence. Over 40% of young people who report they are victims of dating violence say that the incidents occurred in a school building or on school grounds.

“If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn,” said Soler. Victims of teen dating violence are more likely to be truant, have lower grades, and drop out of school. Those who witness violence are also affected, with those students experiencing decreased school attendance and academic performance.

To date, at least 15 states (Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington) have passed teen dating violence laws that urge or require school boards to develop curriculum on teen dating violence, most without additional funding or guidance. The federal legislation attempts to correct this problem by allowing schools that receive federal funding for bullying and harassment to also incorporate teen dating violence prevention. Schools are also encouraged to train school personnel on the issue and incorporate response mechanisms into school policies.

The “Stop Abuse for Every Teen Act” or “SAFE Teen Act” would:

  • Authorize schools to use existing grant funding for teen dating violence prevention
  • Highlight teen dating violence prevention as part of the comprehensive, community prevention program, Safe Schools, Healthy Students, that already funds prevention activities
  • Support better teen dating violence data to understand the scope of the problem as well as having a means of measuring the impact of prevention programs and policies
  • Support promising practices to further replicate, refine and test prevention models
  • This is not a mandated program and the cost is included in existing grant streams

The legislation has been advocated by Futures Without Violence, and a coalition of domestic violence and education advocacy organizations that support the legislation, including the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Love is Not Abuse Coalition, Jewish Women International, Girl Scouts of the USA, and RAINN.

In addition to physical injuries, teens who are victims of dating violence face a host of negative health consequences including depression and suicide, eating disorders, and more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking and alcohol abuse. Victims of dating violence are also three times more likely to become pregnant and more than two times as likely to report a sexually transmitted disease.

“We must stop the cycle of violence,” said Soler. “This legislation helps schools play an important role in preventing teen dating violence."

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