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OWhen Erin Castro began dating the young man who would ultimately murder her, the teen’s family failed to recognize the signs that she was in an abusive relationship.
“Erin became anxious; she was always worried about getting to the phone on time,” said Rena Castro, her mother. “Her demeanor changed. She had been such a strong-minded, smart, fearless person who always had a smile on her face – the kind of person you knew was going to go out and take on the world when she was older. old.
But the San Antonio teenager went from confident and outgoing to isolated and withdrawn, fearful of angering Joshua Garcia, the classmate she started seeing in 10th grade, her mother said. Erin stopped spending so much time with friends, posting pictures of herself on social media, and wearing so much makeup, a passion of hers, due to her objections. She tried to end the relationship, her mother said, but always came back to Garcia because he threatened to kill himself during their breakups. Instead, he killed Erin.
On September 2, 2018, he stabbed her and ran her over with his car twice after arguing with her. Erin had just turned 19 a few hours earlier.
Today, Rena Castro is among those working to bring attention to teen dating violence, especially this past February, National Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. teens. In Texas, this is the first such month seen after the passage of Senate Bill 9, a law that took effect in December requiring school districts to provide instruction on dating violence and problems. related such as child abuse, sex trafficking and domestic violence. Domestic violence advocates hope the legislation will allow schools across the state to help young people distinguish healthy relationships from abusive ones, but some worry that parents could pull their children out of those classes, a result of a last-minute change in legislation initiated by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Although Heather Bellino, CEO of the Texas Advocacy Project, which fights dating and domestic violence, does not support the legislation’s opt-out provision, she hopes SB9 will inspire more young people in Texas to learn about relationships. abusive.
“They had done this before where resources and time were available and also where the need and requests came from the community,” she said. “But there are a lot of underserved and marginalized communities where they don’t have the funding or the resources to do this, and without a mandate it wasn’t happening in schools. So I’m glad that this legislation is there.
Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) has been teaching the Real Essentials curriculum to provide students in grades 5-12 with age-appropriate lessons about healthy friendships and relationships. Victoria Bustos, executive director of student support services at SAISD, said the district decided to offer this instruction based on feedback it received from school counselors about student needs. They especially wanted to reach younger students, she said, to give them the foundation for building healthy relationships in the future.
“The lessons we implement really center around communication and decision-making, cultural influences, and what a healthy relationship looks like,” Bustos said. “So it’s really about focusing on the importance of respect around the essentials of friendship, for example, to start with. The program is divided into different lessons, usually 15 to 20 minutes taught by the school counselor, and that happens for about 10 different lessons. It’s one of the main programs that we use to help promote dating violence prevention.”
Teen dating violence includes physical or sexual assault, harassment, coercive and controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, harassment and exploitation. “It can happen in person, online or through various forms of technology,” President Joe Biden said in proclaiming February 2022 National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. “Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 8% of high school students in the United States reported experiencing physical or sexual dating violence in a one-year period.” Young women and LGBTQ+ youth experience the highest rates of abuse when dating, he noted.
Rather than focusing solely on domestic violence, the SAISD program also addresses goal setting related to educational and career plans and the influence of social media.
“The program focuses on a healthy decision-making model that asks students to stop, think, and make decisions with intention,” Bustos said. “He asks children to think about their life goals. We try to tie everything together from the beginning of development, so that students can know what a good friendship, a good relationship looks like.
Different districts are responding to the law in their own way. In Austin, public school officials are currently updating the district’s human sexuality and accountability curriculum, a process that is expected to be finalized before the start of the next school year in the fall. The topic includes healthy relationships, personal safety, identity, and puberty as well as lessons on preventing child abuse, family violence, dating violence, and sex trafficking required by SB9. Parents and other stakeholders will have the opportunity to review changes to the Human Sexuality and Responsibility curriculum and provide feedback at public meetings. As provided for in the new legislation, parents will also have the option of removing their children from any lessons related to dating, domestic violence or other forms of violence.
The opt-out provision was added to SB9 after Abbott vetoed an earlier version of the bill that did not include this loophole. His spokesperson Nan Tolson said in a statement to the 19 that Abbott “cares deeply about the health and safety of Texas children” but also about the “rights of parents to protect their children.” That’s why he wanted the bill to include an opt-out for families.
Bellino worries about the consequences of allowing parents to prevent their children from receiving lessons on dating, domestic violence and human trafficking.
“I think having to get consent from a parent will mean that some children who experience abuse in their home, either themselves or by watching their parents experience it, will not learn the language or won’t see the red flags that will help them identify and raise an uproar with people in the community that we’ve set up well to be a support system,” she said. “And, therefore, there will be abuses that will continue to happen.”
Bellino said she understands parents want to be involved in raising their children, but called domestic violence a public health issue that young people need to recognize for their safety and well-being. She said there was no shortage of age-appropriate learning materials on dating, domestic or child abuse and that educators should be able to use these resources to provide instruction to all students” so that no child falls through the cracks and ends up being abused when we could have helped them.
San Antonio board member Manny Pelaez also opposes SB9’s opt-out provision. A spokesperson for Pelaez said he believes young people have the best chance of mitigating dating and domestic violence if they are educated about these issues. He proposes that the city of San Antonio require schools and universities that receive city funding to teach all students about domestic violence, child abuse, and human trafficking. The board is expected to vote on the proposal before the end of the year, a spokesperson for Pelaez told the 19.
“Victims of abuse and domestic violence do not necessarily have the ability to opt out of that abuse,” Pelaez said in a statement to the 19th. “And there has been a concern both with [myself] and other stakeholders in Texas that if there is abuse within a household, those households may be less inclined to allow their child to learn about these things and how they can potentially report it.
Rena Castro wants schools to offer lessons about dating violence when she was a teenager, so she could pass the information on to her late daughter. Since her three older children have never been involved in abusive relationships and she married too young to have much experience in romantic relationships herself, Castro said she doesn’t lacked the know-how to identify the telltale signs of domestic violence. She would have appreciated “if something like this program had existed on what healthy relationships should look like and what unhealthy relationships can look like, because it doesn’t always start badly,” she said. “It’s started very well too, but those red flags are still there.”
For her daughter, “a slow progression” of abuse was followed by intermittent bouts of violence before Garcia’s rage eventually turned deadly. When she was murdered, Erin was planning on going to school to become a vet tech. “She had every other aspect of her life under control except for this. [abusive relationship]”Castro said.
To honor her daughter’s memory, she started the Erin Castro Foundation, through which she visits schools to talk to students about the warning signs of abusive relationships. The grieving mother is stepping up her efforts in February with a 5K in honor of Erin and visits to school districts across Texas in recognition of National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
Last year, Garcia was sentenced to 35 years in prison for Erin’s murder and 20 years in prison, to be served concurrently, for violating probation stemming from charges related to hitting her with a car while driving. 2016. She did not suffer serious injuries as a result of this incident. and did not suspect it was a foreshadowing of his murder two years later.
Castro said his family will never get over the loss of Erin, as the teenager’s death completely changed their dynamic.
“Erin was our glue,” Castro said. “She was the peacemaker. I just saw all these qualities of a young woman who was really going to do something with her life. I was so proud of the woman she was becoming.