WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) — Members of the Wisconsin State Legislature introduced a new bipartisan bill on Wednesday that would implement a teen dating violence prevention program in schools. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Petrowski of Marathon.
Senator Melissa Agard introduced LRB-5627 on Wednesday, which would require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to “create and implement a curriculum to teach students about healthy relationships.”
According to the CDC, nearly one in 11 high school students and about one in 14 high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the past year. Jessica Lind is the Sexual Assault Program Coordinator for the Wausau Women’s Community. She says many people don’t fully realize the extent of the problem.
“Teenagers think, ‘This would never happen to me,’ and the reality is, it can happen,” Lind said. “People don’t realize they’re in an abusive relationship until it’s too late.”
Physical abuse is only part of the problem. Many young people experience psychological violence from which it is difficult to escape.
The Volkman family experienced this, as their daughter Dani fell victim to an emotionally abusive relationship. She accidentally overdosed in 2013. Since then, they started an organization aimed at educating the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.
“We wanted something to let kids know this is really happening,” said Kathryn Volkman, Dani’s mom. “We don’t want another parent knowing what we’ve been through and what we’re still going through.”
Education in the Marathon County area has been going on for some time now in some school districts, thanks to the women’s community. They went into classrooms to teach about sexual abuse, consent and violence in relationships.
“It’s important for young people to know what to do if something happens,” Lind said. “Signs of what a healthy relationship looks like. Signs of what is not a healthy relationship. What consent means and how they know if they have it.
The implementation of a mandatory program is an initiative celebrated by Lind. She says she is happy that the legislation understands the problem.
“The fact that our legislators are looking at this more closely and knowing that this is an important issue is great, especially the fact that someone from the region (Senator Petrowski) is taking a look at it. is great,” Lind said.
For the Volkmans, it’s like a victory knowing their message hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s nice to know that what we’re doing is actually making a difference in that way where people see it,” said Marc Volkman, Dani’s father. “It’s not what we did to make the legislation, but someone else helped push this, which is good.
Dani’s Journey is the name of the Volkmans organization. Every year they host a bowling event to raise awareness and funds. More information about this can be found here.
More information about The Women’s Community, Inc. in Wausau can be found here.
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