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What healthy relationships look like

As a survivor of domestic violence, I know how it feels to be isolated, embarrassed and confused about what should be acceptable behavior from a partner.

That is why, as state senator for the 22nd District, I am prioritizing policies and events that will educate and protect victims, both men and women. No one should feel as if they need to do this alone. They should know where they can turn for help.

I’m also working on proposals alongside groups including the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. This includes making sure our young people have the tools to know what a healthy relationship looks like, not just romantic but healthy friendships as well.

As a public school teacher for 17 years, I’ve seen how some of our youth find themselves being pushed into inappropriate or unsafe behavior by friendships that are not healthy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen dating violence is widespread, with serious long-term and short-term effects. Many teens do not report it because they are afraid to tell friends and family.

In a staggering statistic, the CDC states that one in four adolescents report having been verbally, emotionally or physically abused while dating.

A 2017 teen survey found that 8 percent of high school students reported physical violence, and 7 percent reported that they experienced sexual violence from a dating partner in the 12 months before the survey. Among victims of sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, about 26 percent of females and nearly 15 percent of males first experienced some form of violence by that partner before age 18, the CDC reports.

This is unacceptable.

A key to solving this issue is talking with teens who have experienced these situations and working with them on solutions. I bring my own experience to the table, but it’s not the same type of experience as what some of the younger people have endured. This collaboration will help us find the path to help others understand when a relationship is abusive, how and where to seek help and also know when to end it.

One solution is giving teens the tools of independence. That’s why I founded WINGS, which stands for Women Inspiring the Next Generation of Sisterhood.

This year’s event, co-sponsored with Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio — my sister — was on March 23 in partnership with Baldwin Park, and focused on young women from 12 to 18 years old.

Led by experts, the event included workshops on financial literacy, healthy relationships, how to be safe with social media and other topics. This is an event that I intend to expand so that more communities can participate in the years to come. As I can say from my experience, domestic violence and abuse can be traumatic and life altering. In my case, ending that abuse was also very public. But despite it being a difficult time, because of the publicity, something amazing also happened: Dozens of women reached out to me — professors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms — to tell me their stories. To thank me.

We all have an image of what a victim might look like. But victims — men, women and young people — are everywhere. We can no longer ignore what is happening in our society. We all need to be part of the solution.

Let’s focus on bringing awareness to teen dating violence and showing our children what a healthy relationship is. Let’s end the cycle of abuse before it even begins.