Lawmakers target teen dating violence with help from schools

Published: Jun. 26, 2017 at 6:18 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- No doubt about it - dating can be rough. Falling in love - and out of it - can hurt.

Some kinds of hurt shouldn't be a part of a healthy commitment -- like physical, emotional or verbal abuse. But for many teens, learning where to draw the line between hormonal heartache and serious problem behavior is easier said than done. 1 in 3 teens report experiencing physical or verbal abuse by tenth grade, according to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence.

What's tough for some teens to learn is that abuse doesn't have to be hands on.

"Even something as simple as walking the victim to every single class to make sure that that person isn't talking to anyone else," says DAIS executive director Shannon Barry, can be the beginning of an abusive relationship. She says controlling behaviors, jealousy, and overprotectiveness often are interpreted by teens as love and devotion.

Barry says that abuse never discriminates -- victims and abusers both can be any age, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation -- but that high school girls are at particular risk.

"We know that young women between the ages of 16 and 24 have the highest risk of intimate risk with partners," says Barry.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, says when one of those high school women -- an intern in her office -- confided upsetting stories of abuse to her, she vowed to help prevent other teens from experiencing the same.

"I was scratching my head. Why is this happening?" said Sargent. "We're a better state than this."

She joined Reps. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, and Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, to create a solution that starts in schools.

"There are a couple school districts in Wisconsin that already have a healthy relationships curriculum," says Sargent, adding that her bipartisan bill would empower school boards to create their own healthy relationships curriculum that fits in with their current programming.

Sargent says that as with any disturbing situation in a student's life, teens who are experiencing dating violence won't be able to fully focus on school -- just one of many ways abuse can be a barrier to success, health, and safety. She hopes this legislation helps students and teachers work together to create a safe learning environment for all students -- even as they learn about the challenges of love.

"What we need to do is make sure kids are in a place where they can actually learn."

Copyright: WMTV 2017