N.J. moves to shield kids from sexual misconduct

Allison Pereira testifies Tuesday at an New Jersey Assembly Education Committee hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Allison Pereira testifies Tuesday at an New Jersey Assembly Education Committee hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

A New Jersey Assembly committee has passed a package of bills aimed at keeping students from becoming victims of sexual misconduct.

The legislation would require school districts to provide instruction on sexual abuse awareness; the meaning of consent for sexual activity; and the consequences of distributing sexually explicit images through electronic means.

When she was a high school sophomore, a topless photo she sent to her ex-boyfriend went viral on the internet, Allison Pereira testified during a legislative hearing Tuesday.

“Girls would threaten to beat me up on a daily basis because their boyfriends had received the picture, and they didn’t want their boyfriend seeing another girl like that,” she said. “Many of the boys used to tell me that I would never get another boyfriend because everyone had already seen everything that I had to offer, and that no one would want to go out with a girl who everyone had seen that way.”

Students need to be taught at an early age about the dangers of sexual misconduct so they are better able to protect themselves, said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee.

“Potentially our schools are apprehensive to do this for fear of liability, for fear of outrage from the parentals,” said Lampitt,D-Camden. “They need the support of those that have delved into it, that have investigated it.”

Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, testified that requiring the information be provided to students would have an impact.

“I think kids are really smart. They’re paying attention. Everyone is talking about #MeToo. Everyone is talking about interpersonal violence. They’re savvy,” she said. “And I think that they’re eager for information to help protect themselves or identify ways to protect their friends if their friends are in violent relationships.”

Parents also need to reinforce that message at home, Teffenhart said.

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