Friday, August 31, 2012

Justice for Yeardley?

Yeardley Love, days away from graduating from the University of Virginia, was killed in 2010 by her ex-boyfriend George Huguely. Both were 22; both were lacrosse players.

 He was drunk, pissed off, and came to her apartment where she lay sleeping. He kicked the door in, beat her head against the wall, and then stole her computer – apparently to keep the threatening emails he’d sent her from seeing the light of day.

He was convicted of second-degree murder and grand larceny. Yesterday he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. With good behavior and including time served, he could be out in as little as 18 years.

As in so many domestic or dating violence scenarios, Yeardley did nothing to provoke the violence that ended her life. She was sleeping in bed when she was attacked by the man with whom she had ended a relationship.

The defense argued that George didn’t intend to kill her (despite his messages to her to do just that), but that she died because she suffocated in the pillow. Never mind that she wouldn’t have died at all if not for the savage beating George gave her. Never mind that George traveled from his apartment to hers, had to kick down the door to gain entry, and then beat her while she was asleep.

Yeardley Love’s parents are suing George Huguely personally, as well as the University of Virginia. Could her death have been prevented had the University acted against George Huguely in 2009, when he accosted another lacrosse player while George was drunk?

Clearly he had a problem handling alcohol. He also had anger issues, and his relationship with Yeardley was called volatile by friends. The norm is that most abusers do not serve much jail time unless they kill someone.

The US Senate has passed the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization bill, S.1925. Congress is considering a version that does not protect all domestic violence/sexual assault survivors. Do they consider that some survivors did not have “legitimate” assaults, and so are undeserving of services?

Violence against women crosses all boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, religion, political belief, and marital status. Worldwide, one in three women will be experience some form of domestic violence; compare that to breast cancer, which affects one in eight women.

The question isn’t why did Yeardley Love stay in a volatile relationship with George Huguely. The question is why did he lash out in violence? We need to put the onus on the perpetrator, not the victim.

We need to make violence against women a national conversation, in the way Betty Ford first made breast cancer a national conversation. We need to bring it out of the closet and stop blaming the victim. We need to address the abusers, provide services to the victims, and stop the cycle of violence by educating the children.

Does the 23 year sentence Huguely received mean that Yeardley received justice? Yes, in the sense that her killer was caught, tried, and sentenced to a prison term. No, in the sense that had Huguely received intervention at some point in his career as an abuser her death might have been prevented.

The answer isn’t to punish the killers of women; it is to stop the violence against them from happening in the first place.


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