U.S. Department of Education focuses on gender-based violence


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Leaders in Iowa schools have been asked by a federal agency to initiate more effort to stop gender-based violence in schools.

On Feb. 28, the U.S. Department of Education wrote a letter asking chief state school officers to help schools in all 50 states find efforts to reduce gender-based violence.

According to the Rape Victim and Advocacy Program website, one in three women in the world have been beaten, coerced into having sex, or otherwise abused.

Local experts said they are glad the focus is being placed on the issue.

“It is a serious issue, and I’m very glad the Department of Education is getting involved,” said Susan Junis, the education coordinator of RVAP. “The impact is vast.”

Junis said gender-based violence can be defined as sexual abuse, dating or domestic violence, or stalking. She also said school can be one of the first places gender-based violence can affect a student.

“For a lot of victims, almost immediately, we see a drop in grades,” she said. “If their perpetrator attends the same school, that’s going to have a huge impact on how safe they feel.”

John Bacon, the principal of City High, said the school takes gender-based violence very seriously and works to eliminate it by instilling values of respect and kindness in its students.

“Strategies to build healthy relationships are directly addressed in our required curriculum in classes such as Health,” he wrote in an email. “They are also reinforced in many ways across the curriculum through the positive relationships that are developed between students and teachers, counselors, coaches, administrators, and more.”

Beth Barnhill, the executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said getting students involved in the conversation about gender-based violence is key to overcoming the issue.

“I believe there should be as much discussion about gender-based violence as there is about bullying,” she said. “We want to get students talking about it, not only so they can get their friends help if they need it, but also to create a climate in which it’s not acceptable.”

Barnhill said organizations such as the Coalition Against Sexual Assault bring some focus to the issue, but not enough. She said giving attention to the violence happening in schools is what will make a larger difference.

“I think the public’s perception of violence in schools involves the most extreme incidents: those that involve guns,” she said. “I’m glad to see attention is being focused on the everyday violence that many girls and young women experience in our schools. If we don’t address school climates, we’re really not going to make a difference.”

Staci Hupp, spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, said there are already efforts in place to help local schools address this issue through the Bureau of Learner Strategies and Supports, the Bureau of Nutrition and Health, and school counseling programs.

“We support comprehensive school counseling programs that address how students treat each other,” she said.

Hupp said this is an issue the Iowa Department of Education considers to be important enough to address because it impacts how students feel when they are at school.

“We already work hard to address aggressive behavior in Iowa but we always look forward to seeing how we can build on our existing efforts to help students feel safe in schools,” she said.

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