Dating violence expert teams with Buccos on proposed school law
Chester counselor promotes bill after brutal killing in Virginia
By PHIL GARBER
CHESTER – A nationally-known counselor on safe dating has teamed with a father and sonlegislative team on a bill that would require schools to teach kids how to stay out or get out of abusive relationships.
The bill, A2920, known as the “Safe Dating Law,” was approved by the Assembly Education Committee two weeks ago, setting the stage for a full Assembly vote.
“It will basically teach kids how to have a healthy relationship, what a healthy relationship is and is not and what ateen should do if he or she is in an abusive relationship,” said Dari Dyrness-Olsen, a counselor based in Chester who was the catalyst for the bill.
Dyrness-Olsen specializes in helping teens who have been victimized in relationships. She has written three books on the subject and speaks on the topic around the nation.
Reports nationally show that one in three teens will be in an abusive dating relationship before the end of high school and that less than one in four will tell their parents of the violence.
Dyrness-Olsen said dating abuse is insidious because it begins slowly and may not appear abusive at first. It may be a boyfriend who calls or texts too often to track his girlfriend. The control then gets worse and too often turns to verbal and then physical violence.
The technology of social networking websites and text mail makes it even easier for the abuser. Added to the mix are mixed messages that teens may get from songs, videos or movies about dating and violence.
“Kids have no idea when they are being abused because it’s become such a societal norm to call them names or text them constantly,” Dyrness-Olsen said. “Before they know it, they find themselves in a tremendously, controlled situation.”
The co-prime sponsor for A2920 is Assemblyman Anthony Bucco Jr., R-Morris. His father, Sen. Anthony Bucco Sr., R-Morris, is the co-prime sponsor of the companion Senate bill.
Bucco Jr. said he expects the bills will be passed and signed by Gov. Chris Christie.
“We are seeing evidence of more and more destructive relationships among young adults,” Bucco Jr. said. “Kids need some sort of instruction on what an appropriate relationship is about and how to get out of a relationship if it doesn’t feel comfortable.”
The bill would require all middle and high schools to develop curriculum to help teens to avoid abusive relationships. Schools would have the option to use a curriculum, “Love is not Abuse,” which would be provided along with teacher training at no charge by Liz Clairborne Inc.
Districts would determine the length of courses but they would have to be offered as part of health education programs each year from the 7th through 12th grades.
School districts also would be required to develop dating violence policies and to provide dating violence training to staff in middle and high schools. The bill also recommendsdating violence training be offered to parents.
The need for greater education against dating abuse was first brought up by Dyrness-Olsen last May. She approached Bucco Jr. a few days after the murder of Yeardley Love by her ex-boyfriend at the University of Virginia.The much publicized killing underscored FBI reports that 30 percent of women murdered in the country are killed by their boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, husbands, or ex-husbands, Dyrness-Olsen said.
She also is the state action leader for a program run by Liz Clairborne Inc. and known as “Moms and Dads Educate TeensAbout Dating Abuse” or MADE.
“I met with Assemblyman Bucco and he eagerly said yes to the program,” Dyrness-Olsen said.
After speaking with Dyrness-Olsen, the Assemblyman began to work with others to craft the bill. The Assembly Education Committee voted for the bill on Thursday, Sept. 16, after testimony from Dyrness-Olsen and others.
The proposed bill is patterned after Rhode Island legislation passed in 2007 known as the Lindsey Ann Burke Act. It was passed after the 2005 murder of the 23-year-old girl by her former boyfriend. The girl’s parents, Ann and Chris Burke, later worked with the Liz Clairborne Inc. to develop the MADE curriculum.
Dyrness-Olsen said she hopes to work with other states to pass similar anti-dating violence legislation.
Tackling dating violence
By Phil Garber Dating violence is increasing and experts say the violence is compounded with the ease of using text messages and social networking.
The disturbing trend makes it even more important for the Legislature to pass a bill that would require all middle and high schools to teach students about what is and is not appropriate behavior in dating.
The proposed bill is the work ofDari Dyrness-Olsen, a Chester counselor and author who has a national reputation in the field of dating violence. She has worked on the legislation with the Buccos, Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, and his son, Assemblyman Anthony Bucco Jr., R-Morris.
Dyrness-Olsen said young people are barraged with unhealthy media messages about dating. Too often, they may not even be aware that they are in an unhealthy dating relationship.
It may be a boyfriend who keeps uncomfortably close tabs on his girlfriend through constant text messages. Or it could be the boyfriend who frequently berates and insults his girlfriend.
The goal in such unhealthy behavior is for the abuser to gain power and control. The verbal and psychological battering too often escalates into physical violence.
Dyrness-Olsen started pressing for the new state legislation just days after a student at the University of Virginia was murdered by her boyfriend. The proposed bill is patterned after a Rhode Island law that was enacted after a girl was killed by her former boyfriend.
Under the proposed bill, a curriculum developed by the Liz Claiborne foundation would be provided free. Teacher training also would be offered at no cost to the district.
The bill would require districts to craft policies against dating violence. It also would provide classroom education to students and would encourage programs to be developed to educate parents about dating violence.
There would be no cost to the district and the program might save a child's life or at least empower young people to understand and reject unhealthy relationships.
The bill should be quickly passed and signed by Gov. Chris Christie in time for the 2011-12 school year.