Sexual violence, teen dating violence would be taught in Wisconsin health classes under new bill

Sexual violence, teen dating violence would be taught in Wisconsin health classes under new bill

Wisconsin schools would be required to educate teens about preventing dating violence under a new proposal at the state Capitol.

Rep. Melissa Sargent said her bipartisan bill proposal was inspired by her former intern, whom Sargent realized was not in a healthy relationship.

“Here we had a young woman who wasn’t even old enough to vote who sat down with me and shared her personal story,” Sargent said. “Because of that, we have this bill that I know will save lives when we do get it passed.”

The proposal would require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create a policy about prevention and appropriate responses to teen dating violence and sexual violence by July 2020.

School boards would have six months to adopt the state’s curriculum or develop their own.

Missy Mael, director of education, outreach and prevention for the Rape Crisis Center, said currently her team goes to local middle and high schools and teaches a curriciulum related to sexual and teen dating violence. But she said the education is inconsistent between classrooms.

“The problem is because there is no set curriculum from the state, it’s all over the board,” Mael said. “We might go into one classroom for 30 minutes once a year, another for a couple of classes in a row and then some not at all.”

Typically, Mael said, the Rape Crisis Center teaches the curriculum in health classes, but the center is willing to educate any classroom where the teacher allows it. That has included all kinds of subjects from government to English.

The center runs the GameChangers Youth Advisory Board, which educates up to 20 Dane County students each school year about a number of issues including sexual violence and rape culture.

Two local high school seniors on the board, Sairoong Brunner and Kimberly Leon, said their awareness of teen dating violence at school and among their peers has increased through the board’s work.

“It’s really helpful to know the things to look for in an abusive relationship and where you can go to get help,” Leon said.

Brunner said in school, she’s learned about what she calls the “extremes” of domestic violence, such as that a person should not let their partners hit them. But she didn’t necessarily learn how to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship.

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends just not even be able to recognize what’s happening, and I think that’s something that education can play a big role in,” she said.

Sargent has introduced the teen dating violence bill several times before, and it has even had public hearings. But there has been opposition to the idea.

“There are some people out there who question whether or not we should be talking with young people about relationships, but we do know that this is something that we all experience,” she said.

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