Two Democratic senators are looking to expand on public school health education by requiring high school students across the country to complete a course on sexual assault.
Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) recently announced the Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015. The act would require public schools to include education on "safe relationship behavior" in the health education program at public secondary schools across the nation. The goal would be to prevent sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence. Currently, federal law does not require such a course.
"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," Kaine said.
The bill would use federal grant money to help administrators and staff develop age-appropriate curriculum on the topic, writes Sabrina Siddiqui for The Huffington Post.
Rebecca Weybright, executive director of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, would like to see the conversation on this topic begin at home.
"But there's no guarantee of that," Weybright said. "We work regularly with young people in middle school and high school and have seen changes in their willingness to intervene in potentially harmful situations."
Students become aware of these issues through a variety of avenues including media, family, friends or their own personal experiences. As such, "they need to learn how to talk about these things before they need to talk about them," she said.
The push for new legislation comes after increased attention was brought to the issue in the discredited Rolling Stone article published last November pertaining to an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. The media attention surrounding the article has led state lawmakers to look for quick solutions to the issue at hand.
After a meeting this December with members of sexual assault prevention group One Less at UVa, Kaine determined that early intervention is the best way to fix the problem. He would like to see students be given the tools needed to remain safe before they enter the 16-24 age range, found by the Department of Justice to be the age when most young women experience the highest rate of 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," Kaine stated.
Member of One Less at UVa told Kaine that they had began their college career with no formal education on the topic.
An estimate from the Department of Justice places the number of people in the US to be raped or sexually assaulted each year at 290,000. However, advocates believe the number is much higher.