Women and Violence | The Murder of Yeardley Love
The Sad Story of Yeardley Love
Yeardley Love's Murderer Admitted He Killed Her, But Pleaded Not Guilty
In May 2010, while the families of many college seniors were happily planning graduation parties and post-commencement vacations, Yeardley Love’s grief-stricken parents buried the battered remains of their beautiful 22-year-old daughter, who would have graduated just weeks from the date of her funeral.
According to news stories, George Huguely, 22 at the time, admitted he kicked in her door, repeatedly ‘shook’ her head and knocked her against a wall, leaving her battered and bloody remains to be discovered by her roommate on May 3. It was an accident, he claimed. The couple, both of whom played lacrosse at the University of Virginia, only had an ‘altercation.’
After nearly two years, Huguely pleaded not guilty on February 6, 2012, with his attorney still claiming Yeardley’s death as an accident.
One wonders precisely which of the actions Huguely admits to were accidental. The repeated violence in the attack calls to question the use of the word 'accident.' Did he just happen to stroll by the door to her room and 'accidently' kick it in? Surely he knew his violence was causing serious injury to his former girlfriend. Perhaps he just wanted to get her attention and straighten out a few misunderstandings.
Apparently the judge and jury in Huguely's trial were skeptical about his claims that the death was accidental, too; Huguely was found guilty, and in August 2012 was sentenced to 23 years for taking the life of Yeardley Love.
Even the words Huguely used when addressing Love's family at the sentencing seemed designed to avoid responsibility for his actions. Rather than apologizing for what he had done as he turned toward Love's mother and sister, he said he was sorry for their loss, then told them he prayed they would find peace.
Huguely's attempt to deflect attention to the family (as though their grief and loss occurred in a vacuum, with no action on his part) is typical of inability or refusal many batterers have to accept and acknowledge their own actions.
Some Battered Partners Have Scars and Some Don't
About Three Women a Day Die From Partner and Spousal Abuse
The violence surrounding Yeardley Love’s death is a frightening example of what happens to thousands of women each year who are physically violated by their intimate partners. The National Organization for Women (NOW) estimates that a third of the women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. About three women a day die from these attacks. The Domestic Violence Resource Center estimates that one in four women has been the victim of domestic violence at some point in her life.
Sadly, according to NOW, a disproportionate percentage of female victims of domestic violence are younger women and women living in poverty. Younger women can be less skilled in recognizing and navigating out of a relationship that has become abusive, controlling or dangerous. Additionally, women living in poverty may recognize they’re being abused but lack the resources to escape or be unfamiliar with community organizations that can help.
Partner abuse is not new, but its recognition as a national shame is but a few decades old. Only a generation or two ago, the battering of a spouse was a closet-crime that rarely, if ever, resulted in prosecution or conviction. All too often, women who turned to authorities for help were ignored and told it was a ‘domestic problem.’ The unspoken message this conveyed was that men held ownership over women and, therefore, could treat them in any manner they desired, and their actions, whether loving or violent, were above the law. A companion attitude of this approach, equally as cavalier, was to assume a battered woman somehow deserved her bloodied nose, blackened eyes, broken limbs, or, in the worst cases, her memorial service.
Although the attitudes of law enforcement have changed, it is unfortunate that some sons and grandsons of that era are still inflicting brutal damage to the women in their lives. Even bright, healthy, educated women such as Yeardley Love can be vulnerable to such abuse. Violent individuals don’t come with warning labels; they can be seductively affectionate, loving and reassuring. Often, they are insidiously masterful at converting an innocent dating relationship into one where they hold the power and shift blame for their behavior to their victims. Insecure questions such as “Where were you?” or “Who was that you were talking to?” can escalate into jealous arguments that leave a young woman confused and defensive as she frantically tries to sooth or explain away the anger her ‘loving’ boyfriend suddenly exhibits.
Young girls who are away from home for the first time, on college campuses or in the military, are further made vulnerable by being removed from the security of their homes and families, where a trusted (and more experienced) adult might be able to spot an abuser and counsel them away from danger.
Do you know anyone (including yourself) who has been the victim of domestic violence?
As in Yeardley Love's Case - Domestic Violence is Often Unreported
So far, we don’t know if any of the classmates, professors, team members or coaches who knew George Huguely and Yeardley Love spotted behaviors that might have served as red flags. If they did, and if those red flags were ignored, we can only hope none of them will be plagued with sleepless nights wondering whether Yeardley Love would still be alive had they done something. We can, however, raise awareness about partner abuse and help young women recognize it in time to escape. We can help give our young women the self-confidence, internal strength and sense of personal worth to walk away from an abuser rather than allowing him to twist her mind into thinking his violence is her fault.
We tend to think that jealousy and control can only happen in person, but the advent of social networking sites on the Internet has created new arenas for predators and abusers. A jealous boyfriend can monitor whether his partner is online and demand to know who she was talking with. An abusive partner can convince his girlfriend to ‘share’ passwords in order to allow mutual access to e-mails, which then become tools for exerting control in the relationship. Manipulation can take many forms; anything that diminishes a woman’s control over her own body and her personal free agency should be examined for possible abuse.
Many batterers immediately blame their victims; "She drove me to it!" or "She asked for it!" An extension of this behavior is to 'apologize' for what the family feels, rather than for what the attacker did. Huguely's words at his sentencing, offering only his 'sorrow' at what the family felt, reflect an effort to remove himself from the picture.
We do not know what led George Huguely to go to his girlfriend’s room and engage in an ‘altercation.’ As reasonable adults, though, we should assume that a responsible discussion (or even a heated argument) would not have required him to attack her violently and leave her to die.
More thoughts on violence
- How to recognize a stalker: What to look for, and what to do about it
Is your new date a stalker? Here's how to recognize stalking, whether it's insidious or over the top. Learn how to protect yourself.
- National Organization for Women (NOW)
The National Organization for Women (NOW): Taking action for women's equality since 1966. News from NOW: stories about women and feminism, action alerts, and more.