By HYONHEE SHIN
Capital News Service
LANSING – If your dating partner uses physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse or threats, you’d better know how to respond.
That’s the intent of lawmakers who want the Department of Education to develop a dating violence policy to help public school staffers and students deal with such incidents.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, says she became convinced of the need for such a policy after hearing about similar efforts in other states at a National Foundation for Women Legislators Conference.
“We needed to act upon seeing alarming statistics associated with dating violence,” Warren says.
About 24 percent of teenagers know at least one student at their school who has been hit by a dating partner, according to a survey commissioned by the Empower Program and sponsored by the fashion company Liz Claiborne Inc. Eleven percent know more than one victim of dating violence and 33 percent witnessed such an incident, the survey found.
Ronald Drzewicki, White Pigeon Community Schools superintendent, says he is aware of dating violence in his part of St. Joseph County.
“What we’ve seen is mostly emotional and verbal abuse to teen girls,” he says. “It doesn’t appear to be widespread, but these incidents often go unreported to adults.”
A study by the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Advocates for Youth found that nearly 95 percent of dating violence victims didn’t tell friends or relatives about their experiences.
In addition, the study showed that parents are generally unaware of the problem, with 81 percent either believing that teen dating violence isn’t a problem or admitting that they don’t know about it. And 54 percent of parents said that they haven’t spoken to their child about dating violence.
Sexual promiscuity is also a major concern among young students, Drzewicki says.
“I don’t think the students are educated enough about it,” he says. “Otherwise, they don’t take the risks involved seriously. It appears that a lot of students are having sex at an early age. In the eyes of many teens, dating someone equals having sex with the person.”
If Warren’s bill passes, every middle and high school would be required to provide dating violence education in grades 7 to 12. Further, it would mandate training to all administrators, teachers, counselors, nurses and mental health workers, so school staff could respond appropriately to incidents of dating violence.
Chuck Frisbie, superintendent of Constantine Public Schools, says the education would be helpful to students.
“We need assistance,” says Frisbie. “Dating violence has happened for a while around here, but it’s not a easy thing to deal with.”
Drzewicki says all staff who work with students could benefit from training.
“I don’t see it getting better on its own,” he says of dating violence. “If we have staff who could recognize the signs and intervene in a productive way, it could make a big difference in the lives of some of these teens.”
He also suggests updated and mandatory education on dating violence for all teens.
“It would be great if teens are taught how to recognize it, prevent it and how to stop it or get themselves help,” says Drzewicki. “We should teach them how to help others who are going through this as well.”
According to a state-by-state report from Break the Cycle, a Los Angeles-based watchdog group, only a few states have laws that adequately address dating violence and protect teen victims.
The report compares how each state deals with teen and adult victims of dating violence, and how difficult it is for teens to obtain protective orders from courts.
Only five states – California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Oklahoma – received As, while nine states received Bs. Michigan received a C.
There is a potential for unreported problems with dating violence at school, says Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, a union that represents more than 150,000 teachers and support staff.
“More attention needs to be paid on this issue,” she says. “We should do as much as we can to minimize harm to students.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Daniel Scripps, D-Leland; Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores; Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit; Deb Kennedy, D-Brownstown; Jeff Mayes, D-Bay City; Alma Wheeler Smith, D-Salen Township; Joan Bauer, D-Lansing, and Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak.
The bill is pending in the House Education Committee.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.