At a panel discussion on domestic violence only 16 days after the O.J. Simpson verdict--and especially at one including Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti--you'd think there would be talk of little else than O.J., O.J., O.J.
But a workshop held at Valley Beth Shalom synagogue on Thursday was remarkable for how infrequently the infamous murder trial was mentioned--which was just fine with organizers, who said the focus rightly belonged on the women who are the victims of domestic violence.
"I'm an O.J.-free zone," quipped Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a panelist, as she bustled into the auditorium, shaking hands with and hugging supporters as she moved through the room.
Organized by the Valley Beth Shalom Sisterhood, a fund-raising group for the temple, the panel discussion was intended to increase awareness about domestic violence in the Jewish community and in the community at large.
The wide-ranging discussion included an update on recent state legislation targeting batterers, the personal experiences of a domestic violence survivor, and ways that the district attorney's office has attempted to improve prosecution of domestic-violence cases.
Kuehl--a national expert on domestic violence and the first openly gay person to serve in the California Legislature--spoke about the prevalence of domestic violence in American society. According to Kuehl, the FBI believes that one out of every two American women will suffer violence from an intimate at some time in their lives.
Garcetti explained that prosecution of batterers has been improved under a program that he started, in which specially trained prosecutors handle one case from start to finish, allowing them to bond with victims.
Garcetti said he has pushed for more sensitivity training for police officers and judges, with positive results.
Other speakers included Lynn Moriarty, director of the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service, and Jae Weiss, community outreach coordinator of the Valley-based Haven Hills Shelter and a survivor of domestic violence. Abby Leibman, executive director of the California Women's Law Center, moderated the discussion.
Organizers estimated that about 370 people attended Thursday's event, 100 more than the number who usually attend the Sisterhood's monthly luncheons.
"This panel has no relation to the O.J. trial, but we're not naive enough to think that the turnout has nothing to do with it," Leibman said with a smile.