Amanda Palini


In 1994 the United States was faced with a domestic violence epidemic that led Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Act was passed to respond to the needs of victims, particularly women, who are at the highest risk of victimization in crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault. While domestic violence has been recognized as an important public health problem, most services provided are focused on after-the-fact interventions rather than prevention.

Many states, including Virginia, have since created domestic violence prevention programs, added preventative requirements to their state code, and tasked their respective Departments of Education with creating age-appropriate family life curricula that address sexual and domestic violence. Since the passing of VAWA, Virginia has taken a two-pronged approach to prevention by focusing on curriculum and state funding. First, the legislature began requiring curriculum that educates students about the possible threats of sexual and domestic violence. Second, the Virginia General Assembly designated a non-reverting fund towards prevention programs in Virginia.

As it stands, this two-pronged approach to primary prevention does not fulfill the Commonwealth’s legitimate interest in preventing domestic violence because the current curriculum lacks consistency, repetition, and contains loopholes that render it ineffective. Virginia legislators should remedy the gaps in the Virginia Department of Education’s Standard of Learning for family life by: (1) requiring domestic and sexual violence education be taught every year from first grade through twelfth grade; (2) barring gender-segregated family life classrooms; and (3) barring parental opt-outs from family life education. These three policy changes will allow the school's domestic violence primary prevention program to be more effective in meeting all the elements of a successful primary prevention program, and in reducing domestic violence. This legislation would directly support the Commonwealth’s objective of reducing and preventing intimate partner and domestic violence.