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Dozens of states have enacted legislation that addresses teen dating violence, according to research compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As of July 2014, at least 22 states had passed laws that “allow, urge or require school boards to develop or include curriculum on teen dating violence.”Still, school leaders are not dependent on state mandates to act.

Bob Farrace, the public-affairs director for the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said he encourages high-school principals to take an honest and transparent look at their own data, identify the trends in teen dating violence incidents, and address them appropriately.

While he called the study’s findings “deeply troubling,” he said that dating abuse hasn’t been cited specifically by principals as an area of focus for the national organization, alluding to state policies that oversee teen dating violence training and education.

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Further, when principals were presented with several options and asked to identify the largest barrier to assisting student victims, the second most-common response—following lack of training—was that “dating violence is a minor issue compared with other student health issues we deal with.”According to Jagdish Khubchandani, the associate professor of health science at Ball State University and the study’s lead author, some school principals are hampered by faculty and staff without sufficient skills and training; others, meanwhile, mistakenly perceive dating violence as a typical, trivial teenage problem.Ninety-three percent of principals said they referred student victims of dating violence to counselors, while 85 percent said they informed the victim’s parents or guardians.Yet federal data indicate that many public schools, particularly high-poverty campuses, lack counselors.Nikkia Rowe, the principal of Renaissance Academy High School in West Baltimore, teaches a dating-abuse-prevention curriculum to ninth-graders.Violence is a learned behavior, she explained, so she puts the burden on educators in her school—located in an impoverished black neighborhood—to focus on helping students, both victims and perpetrators, navigate trauma and learning their individual stories to shift behaviors and attitudes.“Schools are the training ground to address the abuse and to create that change of mind [to] change those habits,” Rowe said.

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