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Marjorie Gilberg Headshot

Too Little Too Late?

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Cindi Santana and her family did everything right to ensure her safety and the system failed them. We all failed them. Responding appropriately to dating abuse requires parents, schools, community leaders, law enforcement and elected officials to work together and we were not ready.

What happened to Cindi is horrific and extremely sad but unfortunately not shocking. Between 1,000 and 1,600 women die each year as a result of domestic violence and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest per capita rate of physical abuse in their intimate relationships. One in three young people will experience some form of abuse in a dating relationship and one in ten will experience physical violence. Dating abuse is happening everywhere. Abuse can happen to anyone -- famous, smart, strong, beautiful, young, old -- no one is exempt from experiencing dating violence.

Putting a dating abuse policy on paper is a significant first step in a series of events that will need to happen to truly have an impact on relationship violence. LAUSD has estimated it will take around $2 million to get the program activated and the resources have yet to be identified. Additionally, LAUSD accounts for only a fraction of the students in LA County. While there are 152 high schools in LAUSD, there are 413 non-LAUSD high schools and more than one million students outside of the LAUSD system throughout Los Angeles County. We still have a long road ahead. Our state leaders must take the next step and enact legislation requiring that all California schools implement dating abuse prevention programs.

Break the Cycle, the leading national organization dedicated to preventing dating abuse, has worked diligently to garner attention for this issue at both state and national levels. In California, we have worked alongside the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (the Partnership) and found ourselves repeatedly needing to educate legislators about misguided bills that would have required a parental notification and opt-out clause essentially equating the subject of dating violence to sex ed.

Let's be clear: dating abuse education is not sex ed. Preparing teachers and administrators to respond adequately and ensuring that law enforcement works in close collaboration with schools and community-based organizations has nothing to do with the human reproductive system. Teaching young people about healthy communication, the warning signs of dating abuse and what to do about it if it happens to them or someone they know simply helps schools fulfill their legal obligation to provide a safe, supportive, non-discriminatory learning environment.

Bullying prevention programs don't require parental notification. Gang prevention programs don't require parental notification. Why should dating violence be singled out as a controversial subject? We must move this issue into the light, stop making it taboo, eliminate victim-blaming and create environments where young people can come forward and tell someone if their safety is being threatened.

Since 1996, there have been eight school-based teen dating violence prevention bills introduced in California, all of which have failed. The Partnership's Executive Director Tara Shabazz noted, "There is tremendous public support behind teen dating violence education, but legislators can't seem to muster the political will." Importantly, though parents are vital players in addressing and preventing dating abuse, we were unable to enlist the support of the California PTA in the most recent legislative session.

Fourteen other states have successfully passed laws pertaining to dating abuse prevention education, training and/or policies in the schools. Sadly, many of those laws are named after young murder victims. Now that we have had our own senseless tragedy in the death of Cindi Santana, perhaps we can count on California legislators to step up and make real progress on this critical issue.