"One day Heather walked into the living room and just randomly said to me that she thought she was put on the Earth to help people. I believe Heather's Law is keeping her alive. I believe this is something she'd like to see happen," Debbie Norris, the mother of the late Heather Norris, who was brutally murdered by her high school boyfriend in 2007, told The Brazil Times.
According to Debbie, Heather was once a joyous, social and hopeful young woman, but became distant after becoming involved in a relationship as a senior in high school.
"She had a big heart. She cared about her friends and loved her family," Debbie said.
Reports state she suffered physical and emotional abuse in the relationship.
The abuse turned deadly in April 2007, when Heather, then 20, was stabbed and dismembered with a chainsaw.
"They hadn't been seeing each other very long, a few months, when I first became aware of the abuse," Debbie said.
Her remains were thrown in dumpsters around the city of Indianapolis. The man accused of killing Heather, Joshua Bean, was convicted and sentenced to 68 years in prison.
After Bean's conviction, Debbie began campaigning for Heather's Law.
Debbie campaigned for dating violence education to ensure other parents and teens would not suffer the same fate as she and her daughter did.
"I founded Heather's voice first. It was only natural to get it implemented in the schools. It's needed so bad to let the kids know what a healthy relationship looks like. So many students tell me after I've left their schools and talked to them that they didn't know they were in a bad relationship until they heard me speak," Debbie said.
Heather's Law (Senate Enrolled Act 316) was ratified by Gov. Mitch Daniels April 12, and became effective July 1.
The law mandates public schools teach students about dating violence.
Dating violence is the pattern of violent behavior that someone uses to gain power and control over a girlfriend or boyfriend. It's not always physical. Dating violence can include verbal, emotional, economic and sexual abuse.
According to heathersvoice.net, the law "requires the Indiana Department of Education, in collaboration with organizations with expertise in dating violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse, to develop or identify model dating violence education materials, and model dating violence response and reporting policies."
These models became available July 1, and schools will begin implementing the curriculum for grades 6-12 during the 2011-12 school year.
"The younger we get to the children and let them know that it's not okay for someone else to make threats or put their hands on you, the safer the children will be. We want to tell the children they are important enough to protect themselves and others," Clay County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Rob Gambill said. "Usually, it starts out with angry words, putting the other person down, something minor, but then it escalates. The children need to make it known the first time anything happens."
State Senators Earline Rogers (D-Gary), Denise Kruse (R-Auburn), Tim Lanane (D-Anderson), Vi Simpson (D-Bloomington), State representatives Gregory Porter (D-Indianapolis) and Robert Behning (R-Indianapolis) collaborated with community service providers including Domestic Violence Network, Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Children's Bureau, Washington Township Schools and IDOE to develop the law.
According to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence pamphlet, 40 percent of teenage girls know someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
The Clay County Sheriff's Department was unable to provide statistics regarding how many dating violence cases were reported last year.
Their office refers all dating violence victims to either Putnam County Family Support Services Inc. Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Prevention Program (24 West Washington St., Greencastle) or Council on Domestic Abuse, Terre Haute.
The prevention program issued a survey in 2007 to 663 teens. Survey results showed 20 percent of the students said yes they had engaged in sexual behavior because they felt forced in some way, and not really wanted to, and 26 percent of teens who took the survey said they would not know what to do or where to go for help if they or a friend were sexually assaulted.
In a 2009 teen dating violence survey, 18 percent of 488 participants report they have been hit, pushed, slapped or choked by their significant other.
During 2010, Putnam County Family Support Services assisted 32 victims of dating violence between the ages of 12 and 20. This age group is 6 percent of the total victims we served in 2010.
The Clay County Prosecutor's Office reported 14 victims of physical abuse and 11 victims of sexual abuse, all of which were children 17 years or younger.
There are currently no reported cases of dating violence in Clay County courts.
Law enforcement officials say educating students is the key to decrease numbers.
"The best advice I can give to parents is, before their sons and daughters get into dating, the parents need to explain how emotionally invested they can get and how that can expose them to dangerous situations," Gambill said. "They need to have discussions in their homes and help their children formulate a plan in their minds."
CCS Curriculum Director Kathy Knust is working with teachers to implement educational programs concerning dating violence.
North Clay Middle School currently provides information to students through their student Respect, Responsible Safe school wide character initiative.
"Family and Consumer Science (FCS) teachers Sharon Koehler and Dava Boor instruct students through technology based learning modules that address life skills such as dealing with peer pressure, making good decisions, treating people with respect and what to do if you are being bullied," Knust said.
Clay City and Northview high schools watch educational DVD's and participate in class discussions to practice problem solving while studying safe and unsafe scenarios.
Topics covered include qualities to look for in a dating partner, responsible dating guidelines, warning signs in dating relationships, dating violence, how to end toxic relationships and agencies that can provide help.
Three years ago, Northview's Guidance Department sponsored a school-wide convocation with Debbie Norris as the featured speaker.
Both Clay City and Northview high schools have Norris scheduled as a guest speaker next school year.
"I hope that I open their eyes. I hope I help them to recognize and develop relationships that are meaningful, helpful and ones they grow from. I hope their relationships make them happier instead of cause sadness and regret," Debbie said.
"While we have curriculum in place and adult support for our students that may need help dealing with abusive dating relationships. We realize we can never stop trying to improve," Knust said. "I am certain there are students out there that have not been identified and seriously need our help and support."
CCS has a volunteer committee set to meet for the first time July13 to review the DOE's dating violence education materials and models.