06 May 2010

Violence Claims Young Women Like--and Unlike--Lacrosse Star Every Day

At the University of Virginia, students are being taught a very personal lesson these days about the prevalence of domestic violence and its impact on communities across the United States.

Yeardley Love was, until her death earlier this week at the age of 22, a senior at the university and a much-loved member of UVA's women's lacrosse team. Her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely, was a lacrosse player too -- one with a history of "run-ins" with the law. According to the NY Times, Huguely now admits that, early this past Monday morning, he "kicked his foot through [Love's] bedroom door and forced his way in." Once inside, court papers show, Huguely attacked Love, shaking her to the point that "her head repeatedly hit the wall," and causing her to die.

There is no getting around the fact that Yeardley Love's death at the hands of a man she once trusted is a nearly unspeakable tragedy -- for her family, her friends, and for her entire community. But the even greater tragedy is that Yeardley Love is hardly unique in the circumstances that brought about her death. She is one among thousands -- if not millions.

In the U.S. alone, 3 women die every day at the hands of their intimate partners. 1.3 million American women are victims of physical assault by their partners each year. And in 70–80 percent of intimate partner homicides, research shows that the male partner had physically abused the woman before the murder. What's more, it is no accident that the stories we hear involve younger and younger generations. Approximately one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse [pdf] from a dating partner -- a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth.

The media has catapulted the Love-Huguely case to the headlines because, from the outside, this couple looks like everything the dirty secret of domestic abuse is supposedly not: young, beautiful, educated, athletic, successful and white. That this seemingly bright young man should perpetrate a set of acts so heinous, shakes our collective fantasy about where violence against women lives, and where we pretend it does not.

The reality, as the students at UVA are learning, is that it lives everywhere. On the same day that Yeardley Love died, two other women also lost their lives at the hands of an intimate partner. Who were they? What were the circumstances of their lives? What about the three women who will die today…and tomorrow? Imagine what the impact on our society would be if, each day, our morning papers forced us to confront the names and faces of the people just lost to intimate partner violence. Imagine the shock we’d feel. Imagine how our commitment to violence prevention would grow.

As one of the very first funders of domestic violence shelters in the U.S., we at the Ms. Foundation know how crucial raising awareness is to bringing an end to any problem. And how critical it is to prioritize prevention and stop the violence before it starts, at long last. (See Young Women's Action Team and Close to Home for great examples of community-based, violence-prevention organizations.) That much, at least, we owe to Yeardley Love -- and to the thousands of women who died before her, whose names we may not know, but who mattered just as much.

Patricia Eng
Vice President, Program
Ms. Foundation for Women

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