On Feb. 14, the Alaska House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 214, which will rename part of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act’s dating violence education efforts to “Bree’s Law.” The name is in honor of Breanna “Bree” Moore, who was killed by her boyfriend in 2014.
HB 44, otherwise known as the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, was implemented in 2015 to require education regarding sexual abuse and assault, dating violence and child abuse in public schools. The act is comprised of two statutes, Erin’s Law and Bree’s Law. Erin’s Law is named after Erin Merryn, a childhood sexual abuse survivor and activist.
Rep. Harriet Drummond, who introduced HB 214, said the bill does not require any money or changes to policy.
“It renames a portion of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act… [It] combines both child sexual assault awareness training for younger children and teen dating violence awareness training for older students,” Drummond said.
In Drummond’s sponsor statement, she wrote, “Bree’s story provides a lasting and powerful lesson about the need to educate our young people to recognize and safely respond to dating violence.”
Bree was 20 years old when she was shot by her boyfriend. Cindy Moore, Bree’s mother, says that the training and education is intended to empower people to reach out to those who may need help.
“I think a big part of what Bree’s Law does is empowers friends and the peers and the people around the person who’s being abused to reach out to them,” Moore said. “Not only to console them but to say, ‘Hey look, you don’t have to stay in a relationship like this.'”
According to a 2015 survey by Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, nearly 41 percent of women experienced intimate partner violence and about 33 percent experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.
The education provided to teachers and students is given by Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development. Various training courses include topics such as suicide awareness and prevention, safe dating, warnings of sexual child abuse and others. While the curriculum is designed for different grade levels, some are targeted for audience as young as children in kindergarten to second grade.
Moore says that she and her husband, Butch, have worked to provide this kind of education and spread awareness over the last few years.
“The disconnect is kids don’t really understand why they’re getting the education,” Moore said.
The Moores have visited schools to share Bree’s story in order to begin a conversation about dating violence.
“It’s a huge issue and most of the kids are confused, you know. They don’t realize that the unhealthy dating situations that they’re in. They think it’s normal and they don’t really want to talk about it,” Moore said.
Bree’s parents were not aware of her abuse, but her friends and coworkers had known or suspected it, Moore said. This education program will hopefully teach teachers and students to recognize signs and know how to help those in need.
“When [children] hear Bree’s story in the context of the education they’re already getting, boy, they become extremely engaged in the education and the communication really opens up,” Moore said.
Drummond says that there were questions initially raised about the necessity of the bill and its efforts to rename part of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, but she also mentioned what is known as an Amber Alert.
The alert, which is used in all 50 states, issues a warning about a child abduction and was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl that was kidnapped and killed in Arlington, Texas in 1996.
“People know what an Amber Alert is and that’s a missing child alert,” Drummond said. “What’s an Alaska Safe Children’s Act alert? That doesn’t sound like anything but a Bree’s alert or an Erin’s alert, you know, that sort of thing you can respond to.”
Erin Hardin is an information officer with the DEECD and says that the department is supportive of the bill and they “see this as a way to personalize and Alaskanize a serious social challenge.”
The bill has been referred to the Education and Judiciary Committees as of Feb. 16. Drummond says she is hopeful it will get a quick hearing.
For Moore, she’s glad that the education is reaching the students, but she and Butch Moore regret that something had not been done sooner.
“We wish some other parents would have done this 20 years ago or 10 ago,” Moore said. “We wish it wasn’t called Bree’s Law. We wish it was called something else and we wish Bree would’ve gotten the education that they’re teaching now in schools.”
Moore also hopes that in the future, as part of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act, parents will also get the same education.
For more information, the Moores have created a website, breeslaw.org.