Dating Abuse Is a Ticking Bomb

05/14/2010 12:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the wake of the brutal murder of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, now is the time to ask ourselves how such tragedies can be prevented.

The obvious first step is to make sure that universities know when one of their students has a prior history and record of violence, but given the realities of today's dating culture, that's only a starting point.

First, to prevent further dating abuse and violence, we need to have a deeper and truer understanding of the issue. While greater awareness of George Huguely's past might have prevented this tragedy, the fact is the vast majority of those who perpetrate dating abuse have no police or other record of violence.

Second, despite this fact, we can and should be helping potential victims recognize danger signs in their relationships. And we should be empowering bystanders with information on where to seek help if they suspect someone is in an abusive relationship.

According to a recent survey conducted by Liz Claiborne Inc. and the Family Violence Prevention Fund, nearly 1 in 3 teenagers who have been in a relationship report actual sexual abuse, physical abuse, or threats of physical abuse.

That's not a statistic - it's a ticking bomb.

It means that an alarming number of students will have experienced some type of relationship abuse before they even enter college, and they will suffer from the lasting impact of this trauma.

Third, as the University of Virginia community copes with this devastating crime, its leaders have a rare opportunity to galvanize their campus and address head-on the pervasive problem of dating violence. As recently reported, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and University of Virginia President John T. Casteen are meeting to discuss this issue, and they should move quickly to support the widespread use of available curricula about teen dating violence.

Currently taught in thousands of high schools nationwide, curricula such as Love Is Not Abuse would be relatively cost effective and easy to adapt for entering college freshman classes. These curricula can be supplemented with programs for faculty, staff and security on campus to ensure university-wide understanding of the signs of dating violence and abuse.

Few can doubt that there are lessons to be learned across the board. It is important to educate everyone, and empower them to take action if they suspect someone they know is in an abusive and potentially life-threatening relationship.

As a company, we have worked to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence and dating violence for more than 20 years. We know it is a difficult subject to discuss. Major institutions, businesses, government and educational institutions may see the subject as too personal and unpleasant to confront, or even acknowledge. Yet, a senseless death reinforces the fact that we are all too smart to allow this to continue.

We cannot afford to wait. Now is the time to turn grief into action.

William L. McComb is the Chief Executive Officer of Liz Claiborne Inc., which supports the Love Is Not Abuse curriculum.