Five days out of seven, domestic violence advocate Charlsie Banks says she gets word of a middle or high school student who is in an abusive dating relationship.
"It's everywhere and there's not a lot being done to combat it," said Banks, the director of a Renfro Valley-based regional domestic violence program.
It's not unusual for Kentucky teens to be hit, slapped, shoved or sexually assaulted by their boyfriends or girlfriends, advocates say.
Under House Bill 98, introduced in the General Assembly by State Rep. Joni Jenkins and assigned to the House Education Committee, incidents of dating violence between students ages 13 to 19 in Kentucky schools would have to be reported to the state Department of Education by school staff and included in a statewide data collection system. The bill is directed at teens in ongoing, not casual, relationships.
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"We have the ability to collect data and that data's going to help us make better decisions about where our resources should go," said Jenkins, D-Shively. Jenkins' bill also requires that local school boards set policies to deal with teen dating violence.
Under the bill, boards must incorporate age-appropriate education about teen dating violence into the curriculum for students in seventh through 12th grades. Board members would have to establish procedures for how school employees respond to teen dating violence that takes place at the school, on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, or in school vehicles. The legislation requires the Kentucky Center for School Safety to develop materials on teen dating violence for teachers, guidance counselors and principals to study on their own for a minimum of one hour each year.
"Representative Jenkins' bill gives schools another tool to help combat the growing violence experienced by teens," said Sherry Currens, executive director of the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association. "When we know that young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of relationship violence, we have no choice but to intervene."
Kentucky Center for School Safety Director Jon Akers said center officials support the legislation and are willing to research this topic alongside other agencies that want to develop information for schools.
As a high school principal, Akers said he saw several cases of dating abuse involving teen boys who slapped or shoved their girlfriends.
If a boy chooses his girlfriend's clothes or texts her 15 times asking her "where you at, where you at, where you at," said Banks, the girl may take it as a compliment "when actually it's control."
"A lot of parents don't see what's happening because their kids are all engulfed in their Facebook and on their cellphones," Banks said.
The 2011 Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is voluntary and is administered to a randomly selected sample of middle and high school students across the state, showed that the percentage of high school students who were hit, slapped or otherwise physically hurt "on purpose" by their boyfriends or girlfriends during the past 12 months was 14.3 percent.
Felicia Laks, 17, of Lexington said she has not been a victim of teen dating violence, but she's observed its effects and she says the legislation "is a good first step."
"I've had friends who have suffered from dating violence and didn't really speak to anybody about it until after the fact," said Laks. "I think it's important to let teenagers know there are ways to get help and ways to get out of dangerous relationships."
Officials from the state Department of Education are reviewing the bill and haven't yet taken a position, spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said.
Students in Kentucky already are learning about ways to prevent teen dating violence through the Green Dot program, which began more than five years ago at the University of Kentucky and is now in Kentucky high schools and at least 60 college campuses nationwide. Green Dot teaches students to intervene safely and effectively when they spot dating violence.
Eileen Recktenwald of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs said Kentucky rape crisis centers are engaged in a five-year, $2 million research project in cooperation with a team at UK led by researchers Ann Coker and Patty Cook-Craig to evaluate the effectiveness of the Green Dot program.
The study is funded by the federal Centers for Disease Control. Twenty-six Kentucky high schools are working with rape crisis centers to evaluate whether teen dating violence in their school has been reduced under Green Dot.