Two and a half years ago, I read with horror the story of Yeardley Love, the 22-year-old University of Virginia co-ed and lacrosse player who was found a few weeks before her graduation, having been brutally beaten to death. Now, a new app developed in her honor may spare other women the same fate.
The news of Yeardley Love's death was shocking and horrifying. My son, the same age as Yeardley, was about to graduate from another Virginia college. I could not imagine the pain and sorrow that her mother, Sharon, a widow, and older sister, Lexie, were experiencing. News coverage focused on the ex-boyfriend as a suspect, and my own sadness turned to a heart-palpitating anger.
The murderer, Love's ex-boyfriend George Huguely V of Chevy Chase, MD, was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison for his crime. Evidence at the trial highlighted warning signs of Huguely’s drinking problems and violence growing out of control. A former lacrosse teammate of Huguely’s told how he was beaten after Huguely found out he left a party with Yeardley. Others testified about violent incidences that were reported but did not result in intervention.
ABC News reported,
“In the weeks after her death, reports emerged that Huguely had a series of violent outbursts and that he once had to be tasered by a female police officer who he had threatened. He also sent Yeardley Love a furious email in a jealous rage saying that he should have killed her.”
What I have learned is that it is critical to recognize abuse and ensure abusers are not ignored. Friends of the abuser may not believe his actions could cause harm or even believe the victim if she tries to talk to them. It may be embarrassing for a victim to ask for help because she is afraid of the consequences, or a host of other reasons.
In my own situation, doctors and some long-time friends were not supportive and did not believe me, perhaps because there were no physical marks. It was only when a dear friend said bluntly, “How much longer are you going to live like this?” that I sought help for my own situation.
It is very easy and natural to assume all is well with a friend who may be a victim, ignore the signs that may not be obvious, or think that abuse that is not physical or severe is not enough to bring to anyone’s attention. It is not our place to judge severity of abuse. Victims may blame themselves. Knowing the warning signs can help identify an abuser, and knowing how best to support a victim can save their life.
In 2011, Glamour commissioned a relationship violence survey of women with Harris Interactive. The online survey of 2,542 woman (ages 18 to 35), was developed with counsel from the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV), the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Casa de Esperanza and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and yielded valuable information, including these results:
Nearly 60 percent of all young women have experienced abuse. Another 30% of all women polled said they’d never been in an abusive relationship but then reported experiencing abusive behavior. Women often don’t speak up about domestic violence. Telling somebody can make a difference. Love was the “top” answer to why women had not left an abusive partner.
(You can read more facts about domestic violence here.)
In 2010, Sharon and Lexie Love started a nonprofit organization, One Love Foundation, “to educate, encourage and develop in children and young adults four qualities that Yeardley exemplified; service, kindness, humility and sportsmanship.”
On September 20th, the two women broke their silence about the tragedy of Yeardley’s murder, appearing on Katie Couric’s new talk show, Katie, to introduce Be 1 for Change, the Foundation’s first dating violence campaign aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds. A new mobile app and public service video announcement about recognizing dating violence are part of the outreach effort.
The Be 1 for Change video highlights the importance of recognizing signs of abuse in your own relationships, as well as those of others, and then speaking up. Sharon and Lexie’s sharing their personal experiences, combined with their work with the foundation to develop this campaign to combat future incidences, are a gift in Yeardley’s honor to young women and men who might be in such a relationship or recognize signs of friends who may need their non-judgmental support.