R.I. teens learn about dating violence

A new law requires Rhode Island schools to include information about dating violence in the curriculum.

Published October 6, 2008 6:30PM (EDT)

About 10 years ago, I got together with a group of old friends for dinner, and everyone was talking about Gavin de Becker's book "The Gift of Fear." (Yeah, it was probably around the time Oprah was plugging it.) I picked it up mostly to shut up the friends who wouldn't stop recommending it, but once I read it, I became just as obnoxious an evangelist for it. What's so impressive about it is that de Becker clearly identifies those behaviors that make you feel something is not quite right about another person, but which can be really hard to articulate when you're on the receiving end of them. You know, the stuff that makes your gut feel queasy, while your brain says, "But he's just being nice! I must be overreacting." I've read the book a few times and have often wished the principles in it were routinely taught to teenagers.

Soon, in Rhode Island, they will be. The recently passed Lindsay Ann Burke Act, named after a 23-year-old woman who was killed by her abusive boyfriend in 2005, requires the state's public schools to incorporate education about dating violence into the curriculum between grades 7 and 12. Lindsay's mother, Ann Burke, believes "such education would have allowed her daughter to recognize the danger in her relationship earlier." The new curriculum will teach kids how to foster healthy relationships and identify the warning signs for abusive ones, helping them "recognize that some behaviors they may tolerate in their relationships -- obsessive text messaging, for instance, or physical control -- are unacceptable and possible precursors to violence."

Rhode Island is the second state (after Texas) to enact such a law, and some members of the National Association of Attorneys General recently adopted a resolution to promote similar legislation in their own states. Here's hoping that a generation from now, kids will enter adulthood already knowing that that queasy gut feeling is not an overreaction, but a signal to get out.

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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