By Jean Marbella and Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun
11:25 PM EST, February 25, 2012
Katherine Williams, a second-year student at the University of Virginia, never had the opportunity to meet Yeardley Love. But like other students who arrived on campus after Love's death in May 2010, Williams lives with her legacy.
"I took a class on women's health," Williams, 20, said, "and we discussed what happened here."
What happened was Love's murder at the hands of her one-time boyfriend, George Huguely. He was convicted last week during a trial in which testimony characterized him as an out-of-control drinker who had previously physically attacked and threatened her. He faces up to 26 years in prison.
While Love, who grew up in Cockeysville and like Huguely played varsity lacrosse at U.Va., may be most widely known as a crime victim, her death has prompted more than headlines. Because she has drawn much attention and empathy, Love's impact has already been felt on college campuses, in new laws and policies, and even within the world of her beloved sport.
Her death put a spotlight on excessive drinking and dating violence, two subjects not always addressed in college settings. It prompted a change in Virginia law, making it easier to get protective orders against threatening persons. And it led to a stricter U.Va. policy requiring students to report arrests — such as Huguely's, in 2009, for public intoxication and resisting arrest.
Love has put a face on the perils of failing to heed warning signs of escalating and alcohol-fueled violence, advocates say, particularly for young people, who tend not to think they could be victims.
Hers is a powerful story because it is filled with "salient lessons with regard to alcohol use, with regard to dating violence, with regard to rage and the law of unintended consequences," said Stephen Wallace, who directs the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania.
Wallace, also the senior adviser for policy, research and education at Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, said "tragic tales" rather than statistics tend to get young people to take advantage of prevention efforts such as the ones his group advocates.
U.Va. students said that they sense more awareness on campus these days of the need for students to keep one another safe, whether they're involved in a night of drinking or they fear a relationship is dangerous. It's something stressed in the immediate aftermath of Love's death, when then-U.Va. President John T. Casteen III urged students at a vigil in her memory to take action on abuse, even offering his personal help.
"If your relationship is unhealthy or toxic, seek help, seek support," he said. "If you fear for yourself or for others any form of violence, act. … Don't hear a scream, don't watch abuse, don't hear stories of abuse from your friends — and keep quiet. Speak out. Find me; I will go with you to the police."
Those who advocate on behalf of abuse victims say the issue is often a hidden one, shrouded in shame.
"I think this case highlights that the issue itself tends to be a silent one," said Sandi Timmins, executive director of the House of Ruth which shelters and advocates for abused women in Maryland. "It is embarrassing for the person who is being abused. People who see it think this is a personal issue, when the truth is, it is all of ours to deal with."
Love's story will be used in presentations about student safety given in area schools by Linda Kelly, a manager of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination, or SAFE, program at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
After Love's death, which came in the throes of a split with Huguely, Kelly said she invested in a brochure geared to young people on how to break up safely. Kelly said Love's death is a powerful reminder to young adults that they're not as invincible as they think they are.
"That's the most important thing that we should all take away from this horrible case," she said.
Virginia legislators have enacted a law that expanded what victims' advocates say was an overly restrictive measure dealing with protective orders. Previously, someone could get an order only against a family member or spouse, leaving unprotected, for example, a person whose boyfriend or girlfriend had been threatening. The new law went into effect last summer.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown knows the power of personal narrative in prompting action on domestic abuse. Brown's cousin Cathy was killed in August 2008 by an estranged boyfriend, and he has pushed for domestic violence protections. In 2009, he also lent his support to a provision that gives judges the authority to take guns away from abusers, and in 2010 he backed legislation that allows domestic violence victims to break rental leases with a protective order.
"In the wake of the aftermath of this trial, this very tragic and unfortunate event that happened to this young lady, it ought to certainly encourage us, inspire us, to redouble our efforts in that outreach," Brown said.
A network has been built on Facebook that shows Love's legacy in action. Her memorial page is filled with messages from people across the country, including one from a New York City woman who credits the case with helping her get help for her own daughter.
"Just wanted those of you who loved and lost Yeardley to know that my daughter did not get abused by her stalking boyfriend because I pointed out to her college that his actions reminded me of [Love's] situation," the woman wrote. "And they sent him home. Who knows how many women will be saved by what her loss taught the world."
Researchers say that the volatile relationship between Love and Huguely was exacerbated by alcohol. Huguely had as many as 20 drinks on May 2, 2010, a day that concluded with his kicking in Love's bedroom door. She was found dead early the next morning, face down in a blood-soaked pillow on her bed.
Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, said a study he co-authored of abusive relationships that turn fatal shows that perpetrators were often problem drinkers and hyper-jealous.
David Jernigan, an associate professor at the school of public health, said heavy drinking is often viewed as normal for college students. But its toll is steep — every year, U.S. officials estimate alcohol is involved in 696,000 cases of a college student assaulting another.
"There are so many incidents every year on college campuses that fall short of the Huguely incident and yet come close," said Jernigan, the director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
"I think it's a mistake to try and point the finger at any single element of this. At every level of the community there are things we should be doing," Jernigan said. "Unfortunately, awful things like this keep happening on college campuses year after year. There is clearly a need for greater leadership."
Love's death has prompted the world of lacrosse, which has battled its image as a sport of hard-partying elites, to look inward as well. Lacrosse coaches at schools like Johns Hopkins and Loyola have said that, they spoke to their players about issues such as drinking, dating and watching out for teammates.
Love's family has also sought to make positive changes in her name, in lacrosse and elsewhere. Family members started the One Love Foundation — playing on her uniform number — to raise money for causes they believe she would have supported, from helping seniors to developing sportsmanship. It has been flooded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from friends and strangers alike.
Donations helped build a turf field at her high school, Notre Dame Preparatory School, and also went toward a bronze statue of Love at Meadowood Park in Baltimore County. A ceremony to bless the new three-sport field is scheduled for the fall, with construction set to start in May, said Cami Colarossi, director of communications at Notre Dame.
The school's headmistress, Sister Patricia McCarron, asked for prayer over the morning announcements the day after the verdict was reached last week, and emailed parents, asking them to continue to pray as well.
"She will always be one of 'our girls,' and though we will never fill the void left by her death," McCarron wrote, "we pray that those whose lives have been immeasurably altered may find peace."
Copyright © 2013, The Baltimore Sun