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Ed. Dept. Tells Schools to Address Teen Sexual Violence

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Schools are being asked to do more to address teenage-dating violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking.

In a letter to state education chiefs today, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said these forms of gender-based violence disproportionately affect girls, can begin in elementary school, and affect students' academic, physical, and mental well-being.

"As educators and administrators, you play an important role in protecting your students from victimization and its long-lasting effects on health and life outcomes," Duncan writes, noting that the letter coincides with National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month.

Citing the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Duncan said that of people who have ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, about one in five women and nearly one in seven men were first victimized between ages 11 and 17.

Witnessing gender-based violence may affect a student's attendance at school and academic performance, he writes, and victims are more likely than their peers to smoke, use drugs, take diet pills, or engage in other types of unhealthy dieting, participate in risky sexual behaviors, and attempt or consider suicide.

(On a related note, a quarter of teenagers in a romantic relationship reported that their partners had harassed or abused them during the previous year using social media, text messages, or other forms of digital communication, a recent report from the Urban Institute found.)

Duncan urged schools to consider what they can do to prevent and address these issues. In a document accompanying his letter, the Education Department suggests schools launch information campaigns to raise awareness about gender-based violence; train staff and students on the behaviors of victims and perpetrators, figure out how to respond when incidents occur, identify resources that are available for victims; and review school policies governing student and faculty behavior to ensure that they specifically address sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence.

Along with the letter, the department's National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments released a new training module today called Get Smart, Get Help, Get Safe, which provides information for school nurses, counselors, and psychologists on identifying and responding appropriately to signs of abuse.

The Obama administration has taken other steps to shine a spotlight on the issue of sexual violence in schools, too. For example, about two years ago, the Education Department reminded schools of their role in preventing and address sexual violence, giving schools and colleges detailed instructions on how they should work to prevent and respond to on-campus sexual violence, or acts that occur off campus but affect schools, under Title IX's provisions about sexual harassment. The agency's civil rights arm has investigated a number of districts and universities over their handling of sexual-violence cases.

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