Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia has the grim sexual abuse numbers on his website:
Nearly 300,000 victims of rape and sexual assault a year. Young women experiencing the highest rates of violence from their boyfriends.
Kaine and Sen. Claire McCaskill, a fellow Democrat from Missouri, argue that the way to attack the problem is at the root — through education starting in grade school. It’s why the two are pushing for “Teach Safe Relationships” legislation to be included in the federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Act.
This push seems a natural next step for McCaskill. She pushed through legislation changing how the military handles rape cases and has pressed higher education to make campuses safer.
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While touring some of the nation’s campuses last year to learn whether colleges were adhering to Title IX regulations — set to protect students against sexual discrimination, harassment and assault — McCaskill heard the same thing over and again. The problem began long before college. Part of the sex abuse problem on campuses — where one in five women has experienced some form of sexual abuse — is that male and female students come to college not understanding consent and other issues that make for healthy relationships.
Kaine and McCaskill want safe relationship education included in sex education classes in all public middle school and high schools.
Most states require sex education taught in public schools. But, as in Kansas and Missouri, it’s left to individual districts to dictate what to teach and how. So lessons vary from school to school.
“We don’t know” whether children are schooled on safe relationships in any particular district, said Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, which trains educators to teach sex education. “We do know that healthy relationships are often overlooked in sex education.”
The McCaskill/Kaine amendment would come with dollars for training in how to educate adolescents about safe relationships and to prevent teen dating violence, sexual assault and harassment.
And it would require that training and education programs fit the age of the students and their cultural or linguistic differences.
Sex education has always been an emotional issue for some. For years, a contingent of parents across the country have spoken against how schools teach about sex. Many maintain only abstinence should be taught. “But all the polls, for decades, say most parents support sex education in schools, and they want it to cover broad topics,” said Cushman.
It might be a good time to dust off those old polls.