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New teen dating violence prevention bill introduced in Wisconsin Legislature

Legislation to implement curriculum in schools is co-sponsored by Marathon Senator Jerry Petrowski
Published: Feb. 3, 2022 at 9:18 PM CST
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Members of the Wisconsin State Legislature introduced a new bipartisan bill Wednesday that would implement a teen dating violence prevention curriculum in schools. The bill is co-sponsored by Senator Jerry Petrowski of Marathon.

Senator Melissa Agard introduced LRB-5627 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 female and approximately one in 14 male high school students report having experienced physical dating violence in the last year. Jessica Lind is the Sexual Assault Victims Program Coordinator for the Women’s Community in Wausau. She says many people don’t fully realize the extent of the issue.

“Teens think, “That would never happen to me,” and the reality is that it can happen,” said Lind. “People don’t realize they’re in an abusive relationship until it’s too late.”

Physical violence is just one aspect of the problem. Many youths experience emotional abuse that is hard to escape from.

The Volkman family experienced this, as their daughter Dani was a victim of an emotionally abusive relationship. She accidentally overdosed in 2013. Since then, they’ve started an organization aimed at educating the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.

“We wanted something so kids could be aware that this really does happen,” said Kathryn Volkman, Dani’s mother. “We don’t want any other parent to know what we went through and are still going through.”

Education in the Marathon County area has been going on for some time already in certain school districts, thanks to the Women’s Community. They’ve gone to classrooms to teach about sexual abuse, consent and violence in relationships.

“It’s important that youth know what to do if something does happen,” said Lind. “Signs of what a healthy relationship looks like. Signs of what isn’t a healthy relationship. What consent means and how they know if they have it.”

The implementation of a required curriculum is a celebrated move by Lind. She says she’s glad the legislation understands the problem.

“The fact that our legislators are taking a stronger look at this and knowing that this is an important issue is great, especially having someone local (Senator Petrowski) take a look at is great,” said Lind.

For the Volkmans, it feels like a win knowing their message hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

”It’s nice to know that what we do is actually making a difference in that way where people are seeing it,” said Marc Volkman, Dani’s father. “It wasn’t what we did to make the legislation, but someone else helped to push that, 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 on that can be found here.

More information on The Women’s Community, Inc. in Wausau can be found here.

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