Against the playground bully, the nation’s students are well defended.
Nearly every state has passed anti-bullying laws. Parents and students have grown used to efforts to curb the cruel taunts and cyberharassment that an ever-growing number of apps allow students to inflict on one another.
By comparison, we’re more negligent when it comes to addressing another area where students risk troubling, even criminal, attacks from their peers. And that is dating.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri teamed with fellow Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia to introduce the Teach Safe Relationships Act. The bill seeks to expand high school sex and health education to include prevention of dating violence and the development of healthy communication skills.
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They might get blowback. Parental ire could rise at public schools meddling in the family’s role to educate respect for self and others, especially where sex might be involved.
Yet one job of schools is maintaining a healthy, safe atmosphere for students. A lot of teen dating drama plays out in school or at school-related events. It’s incredibly disruptive to learning.
The legislation is a natural progression for McCaskill. Her previous focus helped overhaul how the military addresses sexual assaults and legislation on campus sexual assaults. McCaskill cited Justice Department statistics noting that more than 290,000 Americans a year are victims of rape and sexual assault. Young women between the ages of 16 and 24 consistently experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence.
The numbers put an ugly reality check to the adolescent marker of sweet 16.
Violence and the often-related behaviors of manipulation and jealousy are topics that parents understandably may wish schools didn’t have to address. But educators must. Unfortunately, harmful relationship habits are often learned — from moms, dads and significant others in the child’s home. Twisted attitudes promoted in pop culture cause damage, too.
High-profile cases in sports and on university campuses have meant that many young people have reflected on sexual assault, ideas like what consent means, through the mistakes of others.
What they deserve is a solid grounding in healthy relationships early as they begin to form their first intimacies.