As a college student and a Charlottesville native, I was doubly horrified by the news of the murder of Yeardley Love, which my mother, a University of Virginia professor, emailed to me a few days ago. The details of Love’s death emerged on Tuesday, and have sparked a new dialogue about alcohol abuse and relationship violence on campuses where students neglect to take these issues seriously. Yeardley Love was a senior and a lacrosse player at UVA; her suspected killer is another lacrosse player and her ex-boyfriend, a senior named George Huguely. According to friends, she had ended the months-long relationship fairly recently. The investigation is ongoing, but I’ve included many of the details that have been released.
The details of Love’s murder are chilling. According to police documents, Huguely admitted to breaking into Love’s room by kicking down the door; he then attacked Love, swinging her by the neck and shaking her, causing her head to hit the wall repeatedly. He then left her facedown in her bed, taking her computer with him. When Love’s body was found, she had a bruised face, a swollen eye, and scrapes on her chin.
According to police reports, Huguely has a known problem with violence and alcohol; in 2008, he was involved in an altercation with a female police officer in Lexington, VA. After the officer asked an intoxicated Huguely whether anyone could pick him up so that he could avoid having to go to jail, he released a diatribe of racist and sexual insults. He then became combative, fighting with the officer until she was forced to taser him. The next day, he remembered almost nothing of the incident.
In the wake of the accident, UVA President John Casteen told students that they should be “outraged” at Love’s death. He encouraged students to seek out help for violent relationships, a refrain that has been much repeated in the past few days. Mary Beth Lineberry, the website managing editor of the UVA Women’s Center writes, “Love’s death exposes an unfortunate reality of college life that’s often obscured or silenced in communities…students generally don’t think the statistics [about dating violence] apply to them.” She quotes Claire Kaplan, the director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at the Women’s Center, who explained, “The perception often among students is that such violence exists only for unhappy married couples. In reality, IPV affects all types of relationships and all backgrounds and personalities of people.”
The cultural silence surrounding partner abuse and dating violence of which Lineberry speaks is something that I know exists on my own campus as well. During my freshman year, another student was arrested for kidnapping his girlfriend and holding her against her will in his dorm. I’m not sure how the case progressed, but it certainly demonstrates the way we stop talking about these issues immediately afterward, and how quickly they leave institutional memory.
People have questioned whether the UVA athletics department should have done more to discipline Huguely for his violent episodes; Lee Carpenter, a Yahoo News sportswriter, writes that “Information on athletes’ misdeeds, especially in non-revenue sports, is rarely gathered. And even when it is collected, the facts are often tucked away in hopes no one will notice. College presidents hire coaches who constantly make poor decisions in the name of winning.”
But I think this is part of a larger problem than the UVA athletics department. College women are not empowered to recognize or leave abusive relationships, and when they try, they don’t know how to ask for the kinds of resources that could have saved Love’s life. And the administration doesn’t promote an open or honest conversation about what this kind of violence actually looks like. Part of the problem is exemplified by the email sent to the student body by UVA Chief Mike Gibson, who tells students to “keep your doors and windows locked” and “never allow strangers to follow you into a locked building.” Which is clearly not the issue here – Huguely kicked Love’s door open, and he was decidedly not a stranger to the campus community, so neither of these warnings apply. Instead, they make it seem as though the problem comes from outside the campus, rather than inside it. This kind of violence can happen to anyone, anywhere – and people need to know how to recognize abuse and seek help.
The university’s responsibility in the wake of this horrible crime is to educate its students about partner abuse – not some vaguely defined stranger danger. It’s much scarier to imagine that the violence could come from within a community, but the truth is that locks are not a defense against an abusive boyfriend. And the university owes it to its students to recognize that fact honestly.
Photos from Wikimedia Commons.