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."
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.
The legacy of Yeardley Love
Lacrosse player's death prompts new laws, attitudes
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