Support Student Survivors of Dating & Sexual Violence
Dear Mayor Bowser,
This February we’re recognizing the 10th anniversary of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (TDVAM). TDVAM offers an important opportunity for us to stand with the young survivors in our community, and reflect on our efforts to prevent dating violence before it begins. Here in DC, 35.3% of high school students and 26.6% of middle school students reported experiencing dating violence in the past year.
As part of TDVAM, this week we participated in School Policy Day, a national day of action hosted by Break the Cycle, a national organization with a local legal services program. Across the country, young survivors, parents, and advocates are reviewing school policies to ensure that each and every school has a policy that truly works to provide young people with access to safe and healthy relationships. Policies are a statement of our values, which is why we advocated for the School Safety Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018 (SSOAA). The passage of this legislation represented a landmark step in the District’s support of young people and student survivors.
In order to support local education agencies (LEAs) in implementing the SSOAA, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) recently published its model policy for schools in responding to dating and sexual violence and harassment. While this model policy takes important steps to assist young survivors, we believe there are critical issues in it that must be addressed if we are to truly support young survivors. The biggest concern for survivors and advocates is the inclusion of a new requirement of mandatory reporting to law enforcement.
While it is understandable that schools want to keep students safe and may initially turn to law enforcement and MPD to do so, we know from our advocacy experience and from survivors that mandatory reporting to law enforcement deters reporting. In fact, this type of reporting means that less students experiencing dating and sexual violence will seek the support and resources they need. We should be working to increase the number of options available to victims in the wake of violence. Offering students choice in whether to report to law enforcement or not, and providing assistance in either case, is a national best practice. This is particularly troubling because schools, unlike the criminal justice system, are in the position to take action quickly to ensure a safe school environment. If survivors stop reporting to school officials in an effort to stay out of the criminal justice process, they will lose the Title IX-mandated services they so desperately need: academic support, locker changes, and free counseling. Without this support, many survivors will see their grades drop, or be left no option but not to attend school at all. This goes directly against our District’s robust initiatives, like Every Day Counts!, that focus on increasing school attendance.
We all want to ensure that student survivors in the District regularly attend, and succeed in, school. To do so, education leaders must partner with community-based experts to address and adequately respond to youth dating and sexual violence. This type of robust and meaningful collaboration with subject matter experts could have addressed the issues in the OSSE model policy.
DC is making great strides to be more trauma-informed in many of its policies. The District must ensure this trauma-informed practice takes into account the needs and safety of young survivors, and we ask you to prioritize the safety of young people in schools by making needed changes to the OSSE model policy and investing in dating and sexual violence resources. We hope that the FY 2021 budget will include critical investments that support staff and teacher training around dating and sexual violence, as well as funding for healthy relationships and prevention education efforts in schools and the community. These changes and investments will demonstrate the District’s meaningful and lasting commitment to survivors.
 White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, Considerations for School District Sexual Misconduct Policies, Department of Justice, Sept. 2016 https://www.justice.gov/archives/ovw/page/file/900716/download. (accessed February 3, 2020)