State News

State representatives attempt to curb teen dating violence with bipartisan bill

State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, introduced a bill Monday to help lower suicide rates by allowing people to prohibit themselves from buying a handgun.

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The problem of teen dating violence has garnered attention across the country in recent years as surveys have shown its increased prevalence among high school students. Now, Wisconsin state representatives from both sides of the aisle have introduced a bill aimed at addressing the phenomenon.

Teen dating violence is defined by the Centers for Disease Control as “physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship.” The legislation, introduced Thursday by Reps. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, Melissa Sargent, D-Madison and John Spiros, R-Marshfield, attempts to curb this problem by “creat[ing] teen dating violence curriculum in schools across Wisconsin,” according to a press release from Sargent’s office.

The bill would require school boards to explicitly prohibit teen dating violence at school events, train school district employees to identify and respond to instances of teen dating violence and instruct middle and high schools students about appropriate behavior in relationships.

“Students often feel something isn’t right about the way they’re being treated, but they’re not sure what to call it, and they don’t know enough about relationships yet to know what they’re experiencing isn’t healthy or right,” Sargent said in the release.

Sargent called teen dating violence “an absolutely pervasive problem,” and data supports that notion. A 2013 survey showed that 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 10 male students experience sexual and/or physical dating violence, which does not include potential emotional or psychological abuse.

End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, a group that advocates for survivors of domestic abuse, immediately heralded the bill.

“One in three teens in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a rate that is higher than all other forms of youth violence,” Patti Seger, executive director of the organization, said. “End Abuse is thrilled to see the Wisconsin legislature take steps to address this problem.”

The lead authors of the bill, Kleefisch and Sargent, are on starkly opposite ends of the political spectrum—Democrats frequently rebuke Kleefisch, who has been a vocal proponent of drug-testing welfare recipients and decreasing access to abortion, while Sargent is seen as one of the most liberal members of the Legislature. But Sargent said a bill to address teen dating violence is one that both Democrats and Republicans can get behind.

“We need to educate students on what healthy relationships are and teach them how to identify abuse when they see it, and that’s what this bill does,” Sargent said. “We look forward to this bill receiving earnest, bipartisan support this session.” 

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