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Students, lawmaker push anti-dating-abuse bill

March 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Students rally at the state Capitol against dating abuse. Statistics show every year, one in four teenagers reports that kind of abuse and whether it's verbal, physical or sexual. It's a problem one lawmaker says needs to be addressed more thoroughly in schools, and he's introducing a new bill.

Two Southern California teenagers experienced domestic violence: One dies, the other survives to makes make sure schools are better equipped to deal with young victims.

Just two years ago, Miss Laguna Hills Teen 2012, Morgan Berschauer, was in an abusive relationship, and she says no one at school would help.

"They said, 'We can't help you. We didn't see it. We can't do anything,'" said Berschauer. At least the now-18-year-old high school senior lived to tell about it.

Inspired by the case of Cindi Santana, who police say was stabbed to death by her enraged ex-boyfriend last year in South Gate, Berschauer and other students are teaming up with Assemblyman Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) to reduce dating abuse in California's middle and high schools.

"Many students witnessed the attack," said Liz Gomez, a South East High School student. "When Cindi died, students were heartbroken to have lost a peer and a friend."

Lara's bill would require schools to establish a dating-abuse policy in their safety plans and ensure that resources are available to help students.

The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence says one in four adolescents reports verbal, emotional, physical or sexual abuse from their dating partner each year. Such violence could lead to things like depression, poor academic achievement and eating disorders.

"Know that we are not going to let this issue go," said Lara. "We are not going to let this issue be taken lightly in Sacramento."

Berschauer hopes other lawmakers will join the effort.

"It will make a huge difference in our community, in our schools," she said. "I hope all students will be able to feel safe when they go to school."

Since the proposal has just been introduced, there's no formal opposition yet. But Oregon already has a similar bill on their governor's desk.