COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – High school students have pushed for a new education bill in the Ohio statehouse, hoping to find a way to protect students in cases of domestic violence and assault.

On Tuesday, May 31, three students from Olentangy Liberty High School met with state representatives Tom Young and Andrea White to present the recently introduced House Bill 639. According to the press release, this bill would require self-defense to be taught in Ohio high schools as a requirement for graduation.

“Their desire is to see the legislation passed which stems from a common fear that they share of walking alone to their car at night,” said Young. “After discussing the legislation with them and examining the information they brought to us, I knew this was needed legislation for Ohio high school students.”

The idea began when three girls from Olentangy Liberty High School began working the late shift at the mall, they said. After discussions with their classmates, they found they were not alone in their fears.

The change began in their own high school, and the girls introduced courses through what they called ‘The Empowerment Program.’

As time went on, the three said they realized all students should be given the tools to protect themselves, so they brought the idea to their representatives.

According to Representative Tom Young, these courses would count towards health class credits and would include not only means of self-defense but also information on how to de-escalate a situation and what to do after a violent event has occurred.

“The culture we live in and the kind of tolerance for undermining individuals’ personal space and their ability to flourish – it’s really important that we take steps to help our youth be equipped,” White added.

The classes could be taught by outside experts such as hostage negotiators and other law enforcement. Young said this would have the additional effect of giving students the chance to interact with the officers in their community.

“In every situation, if we get past the immediate news coverage, we find that there’s always a story and how did that story unfold. and that’s how we learn, but unfortunately, it’s after the fact,” Young explained. “This is a preemptive effort to help people identify.”

These courses would add to the present initiative to educate students about mental health issues and suicide prevention as well, Representative Andrea White said. Students would be taught to watch for the warning signs and help with suicide prevention.

“What I want to highlight is these women and their class for taking this initiative because it’s truly wonderful,” said White. “And when you see the power of one, the power of three, the power of how many – when you speak up, you can try make a difference.”

Dayton YWCA Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence director Amy Dudley said this bill is a start, but it fails to address all aspects of preventing abuse and sexual violence.

Dudley said teaching self defense puts more pressure on the victim, rather than working to teach comprehensive sex education, bystander intervention, consent and healthy relationships

“It can only go so far,” Dudley said. “Like what about the emotional and psychological abuse, you can’t self-defense against those kinds of things. We should be educating students on consent and healthy boundaries and respectful relationships.”

If passed, the student protection act will begin with students entering high school after July 2023.