Kaine, One Less propose legislation for secondary school sex ed

CIO presents bill alongside Kaine on floor of U.S. Senate

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University Contracted Independent Organization One Less presented the Teach Safe Relationships Act bill with Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine to the U.S. Senate Tuesday. Members of One Less worked with Kaine to craft the bill.

One Less is an all-female student group committed to educating students on sexual and domestic violence and empowering survivors in the community.

Kaine met with One Less last December to discuss gender violence. One Less Outreach Chair Alex Pinkleton, a third-year College student, said the group discussion focused on the importance of early education.

“[Kaine] had the idea to create this legislation in an effort to prevent sexual assault, domestic violence and dating violence,” Pinkleton said. “One Less stressed the importance of early education regarding safe sexual and emotional relationships as many individuals arrive on Grounds without ever discussing consent or what a healthy relationship looks like, even if they have already experienced sexual activity or a relationship.”

The Relationships Act would amend the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act. The Schools Act is due for reauthorization by Congress later this year to include education on appropriate behavior in sexual and domestic relationships as part of already required sexual education courses.

Though this type of comprehensive health education is currently not mandatory in secondary schools, the hope is that such age-appropriate education may lessen the prevalence of relationship violence.

“Education can be a key tool to increase public safety by raising awareness and helping to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence,” Kaine said in a press release. “But many students are leaving high school without learning about these crimes that disproportionately impact young people.”

The bill would also aid local and state institutions in completing Title IX requirements and provide grants for the training of secondary school educators.

“This legislation would assist secondary schools by authorizing grants towards providing safe relationship behavior educational curricula for students and educating staff and administration about this curricula,” Pinkleton said. “Finally, it will require that these educational programs be culturally and linguistically appropriate and be based in the numerous studies about the most effective ways to reduce sexual and relationship violence.”

Albemarle School Board member Jason Buyaki said he believes the proposed legislation is an important step towards acknowledging the problem sexual violence, but that it will not completely end offenses.

“A law won’t prevent violence, but it will raise awareness and raising awareness can help to condemn behaviors and stop them,” Buyaki said. “But it comes down to the individual and if the individual is bent on being violent, then there’s not a lot stopping them.”

One Less member Evelyn Wang, a first-year College student, said sexual abuse often begins at an early age.

“According to [the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network], 44 percent of survivors are assaulted before the age of 18, which just shows how the issue of sexual assault is not unique to college students,” she said. “The culture of violence begins at an early age and thus needs to be addressed early.”

With a long process of revision and debate ahead, Wang said she believes the next steps of passing and implementing the bill will not be easy.

“We will need student lobbyists to promote this bill, and [we] will need to promote it all across the country to raise awareness and support,” she said. “We need to fight to get this bill passed, and then we will need to fight to get it implemented correctly.”

Wang said that although sexual education is mandated in some public schools, many schools do not teach it adequately.

“We do not [want] the same to happen with safe relationship training,” she said. “Safe relationship training is only effective if the content of the training is good.”

Members of One Less said they are optimistic about the future of this bill and hope University students will stand behind the new legislation.

“I just want to encourage everyone to write letters to their senators and representatives to support this bill, and to encourage their friends to do the same,” Wang said. “We all have a crucial role to play in getting this bill passed, and not a single person [is] unimportant.”

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