U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Claire McCaskill introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, legislation that would improve health education in public secondary schools where it is taught, by including information on “safe relationship behavior” which would focus on preventing sexual assault, domestic violence, and dating violence.
Currently there is no federal requirement that health education courses cover topics like sexual assault prevention and discussions about communication in safe relationships. The idea for this legislation came out of a recent meeting Senator Kaine had at the University of Virginia with members of One Less, a group that advocates for survivors of rape and sexual assault, to listen to students’ recommendations for preventing campus sexual assault.
“Education can be a key tool to increase public safety by raising awareness and helping to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence, but many students are leaving high school without learning about these crimes that disproportionately impact young people,” said Kaine. “With the alarming statistics on the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and in communities across the country, secondary schools should play a role in promoting safe relationship behavior and teaching students about sexual assault and dating violence. I am hopeful the Teach Safe Relationships Act will be one part of the solution as lawmakers, parents, colleges and universities, and law enforcement continue working together to embrace comprehensive reforms to make our country safer.”
“One thing we’ve learned in our work to curb sexual violence on campuses and in the military, is that many young people learn about sex and relationships before they turn 18,” said McCaskill, a former courtroom prosecutor of sex crimes. “And one of the most effective ways to prevent sexual violence among adults is to educate our kids at a younger age.”
According to the Justice Department, more than 290,000 Americans are victims of rape and sexual assault each year with young women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four consistently experiencing the highest rate of intimate partner violence.
“We are truly impressed with Senator Kaine’s innovative proposal, and grateful that he crafted this thoughtful response to our concerns,” the members of One Less at the University of Virginia said in a statement. “As advocates and educators, one of the biggest challenges we face is undoing years of apathy, misinformation, and cultural norms. The statistics show us that 44% of survivors are assaulted before the age of eighteen. However, education on consent and healthy relationships is all but non-existent in our public education system. A bill such as this can implement the sort of substantive change we as a society need. If we want to see this issue put to rest, policies like this must prevail. The biggest tool we have toward prevention is to instill the value of consent and healthy relationships early and often.”
The Teach Safe Relationships Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act, which Congress plans to reauthorize this year, to expand comprehensive health education to include “safe relationship behavior” education. Currently, it is not mandatory for schools to offer health education, but if they do, this is consistent with requirements in current law. The bill would also authorize a grant program to enable secondary schools to educate staff and administration about providing age appropriate educational curricula for students regarding safe relationship behavior. The Teach Safe Relationships Act builds upon the work done in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act to develop and implement prevention and intervention policies in middle and high schools focused on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking.
The Teach Safe Relationships Act has been endorsed by the following organizations:
- One Less at the University of Virginia
- Advocates for Youth
- The AIDS Institute
- AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families
- American Association of University Women (AAUW)
- American Federation of Teachers
- American Psychological Association
- American Sexual Health Association
- Break the Cycle
- Family Equality Council
- Human Rights Campaign
- Legal Momentum
- National Council of Jewish Women
- National Organization for Women
- National Women’s Law Center
- Planned Parenthood Federation of America
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)
- The Trevor Project
- Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance
A full fact sheet on the Teach Safe Relationships Act can be found here.