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Editorial: Students should know about lifeline law

Indiana protects those who report alcohol, drug situations

Megaphone Staff

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Teenage years are a time for us to make mistakes and learn from them. We are each provided with a relatively low-risk environment in which to fail miserable yet have multiple caregivers readily available to give us support and put us back on our feet.

After a night of Netflix binge watching, for example, quarter grades might see a small slump. But no lasting consequences will endure compared to those which would result after missing a deadline in a professional career setting, and the offender now knows to finish work before catching up on Season 13 of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

But some misjudged, juvenile decisions cannot provide a learning experience for the transgressor and instead serve as a warning to classmates and friends.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimates that alcohol contributes to the death in 5,000 teens under the age of 21 each year, and in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), roughly 189,000 emergency room visits by patients under 21 were alcohol-related.

To combat these numbers, Indiana passed the Lifeline Law, which grants immunity from prosecution or arrest for alcohol offenses toward any individual who reports an alcohol-related medical emergency. In order to obtain immunity, the individual reporting to the authorities must provide his or her full name and any other relevant information requested by law enforcement officers, remain at the scene until dismissed and follow the requests of authorities.

With luck, students are never placed in a situation in which these measures is necessary. However, a 2015 survey by the CDC found that within one month, 33 percent of teenagers had consumed some form of alcohol, and 18 percent of teenagers had binge drank. Another survey found that, per drinking occasion, underage drinkers drank more than their legal-aged counterparts.

In no way do we defend this kind of behavior. Underage drinking, as well as of-age binge drinking, can lead to unhealthy or even fatal effects. Yet to assume that these practices will suddenly stop, though ideal, would be naive and ignorant. The Lifeline Law recognizes human nature to make bad choices and acts as the mentor or understanding parent.

Teens tend to panic in situations where alcohol-related medical help is necessary. They may worry that calling for help will result in their incarceration. These few minutes of hesitation could cost a life. The Lifeline Law makes it clear to teenagers that preventing premature death is a higher priority for the government than arresting a misguided underage drinker.

The law was recently expanded to include immunity for those reporting crimes or sexual offenses. If a victim of sexual assault in Indiana reports the incident, he or she will not be punished for underage drinking. The Lifeline Law recognizes that, regardless of what the victim was drinking, it is never the victim’s fault.

According to the National Institute of Justice, the presence of alcohol greatly increases chances of a sexual assault. Of those incidents in which the victim knew the perpetrator, 90 percent involved alcohol. These attacks, though despicable, are not uncommon. One in three females and one in five males will experience sexual harassment, and an assault occurs every 98 seconds, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Over half of these involve alcohol.

Despite these staggering numbers, only between 18 and 0.08 percent of perpetrators are convicted. Too often, this is because the victim is scared to report to the authorities and be convicted herself for partaking in illegal drinking. With the Lifeline Law, victims are assured of their safety and can promote justice without fear.

We sincerely hope that no person ever has to utilize this law. However, it is only human nature to sin, and teenagers more than anyone else tend to make poor decisions. They test their new independence and experiment with their world. Luckily, time in high school and college is filled with opportunities for us to learn from our mistakes and redeem ourselves.

Students at this school are especially fortunate to have numerous teachers and mentors willing and ready to guide them through their upcoming years. Do not be afraid to reach out for advice. But if you ever find yourself in a situation where a person’s safety is at risk, rest assured that the Lifeline Law will protect both you and the victim. Make the call; save a life.

For more information on Indiana’s Lifeline Law visit www.IndianaLifeline.org.

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