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Steubenville rape trial: Where were 'courageous bystanders'? (+video)

The Steubenville rape trial has highlighted the widespread problem of students not intervening to stop dating and sexual violence among peers. But awareness is growing.

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Boys especially “are not being trained nearly enough in being comfortable talking about relationships…. Boys tend to shut down and … not talk about the inner struggles, challenges, pains, and vulnerabilities,” Mr. Astley says.

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The Wayland community will have an opportunity to confront relationship violence Friday night during discussion after the play “You the Man,” by Add Verb Productions and the University of New England. The one-actor show depicts different bystanders wrestling with how they should respond to signs of unhealthy relationships.

Surveys of “You the Man” audiences in 2007-08 found that 83 percent learned how to identify the warning signs of dating abuse and sexual violence, and 87 percent learned where to go for help if they or someone they know is in danger or has been victimized.

Starting in middle school

Middle school is not too soon to take the issue on, experts say.

Some 15 percent of seventh-graders from across of the US had experienced physical dating violence, and 37 percent had witnessed boys or girls being violent toward someone they were dating in the past six months, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Additionally, 37 percent had experienced psychological dating violence, and 31 percent had been the victim of dating aggression through electronic devices.

The foundation's resulting Start Strong initiative – in cities such as Boston, Indianapolis, Austin, and Los Angeles – educates young people, both in and out of school, about healthy relationships. It also reaches out to “teen influencers” such as parents, teachers, and mentors. Three-quarters of the seventh-graders surveyed did talk with their parents about dating and teen violence, which can reduce the risk for experiencing such violence.

In February, the US Department of Education sent a letter to all state school chiefs requesting immediate action to reduce gender-based violence in schools. It also released a new toolkit outlining what schools and communities can do and a training module for school counselors, nurses, and psychologists.

The Centers for Disease Control also offer resources online.

“Like bullying, teen dating violence has far-reaching consequences for the health and life outcomes of victims,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “We need to do everything we can to make sure all students are safe.”

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