Teach Kids Relationship Skills, Victim’s Mother Pleads

The mother of Lauren Dunne Astley hopes to turn a personal tragedy into a movement to make sure that no one else will have to go through what she, and the rest of her family went through. This week, Mary Dunne spoke in front of the Massachusetts State House lawmakers asking them to adopt a comprehensive dating violence program as part of the regular high school curriculum.

She said that had high schoolers been taught about how bad an idea it is to go alone to the house of an ex-boyfriend, maybe her daughter would have been alive today. Lauren Astley was brutally beaten and strangled in early July of 2011 and her attacker – a former boyfriend – has been convicted for first-degree murder and is serving like in prison.

Since their daughter’s death, Astley and Dunne have started the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, which supports programs to promote healthy teen relationships, as well as the arts and community service. They were joined Tuesday by a panel of mental health and education specialists who also called for legislative action.

“Relationships are the beginning and the end of what people are about,” Malcolm ­Astley said after the hearing. “Kids need a lot of training in what is one of the most painful parts of being a human, and that is having a relationship come to an end.”

Malcolm Astley asked the committee members to adopt any of the three versions of the House bill currently before them, and do it quickly before another young person falls victim to partner violence. According to Astley, an ideal program would focus not only on physical health but also on building a healthy relationships and knowing when to get out safely.

He called the level of violence against women today “extreme.” Three women are killed in America every day by intimate partner violence, he told the committee.

“We, over the centuries . . . in order to address, solve, and prevent many terrible problems, have taken remarkable and effective steps, both grand and practical, from the abolition of slavery to the initiation of women’s right to vote,” he said. “We can take another step together now.”

Astley believes that it is never too early start to teach kids about setting boundaries in the relationships, even in non-romantic ones. He pointed out that if younger students learn how to deal with the end of a friendship in a healthy way, they’re more likely to carry over these skills into later life and romantic relationships.