With the One Love Foundation, Sharon Love has spent the past decade trying to prevent her daughter’s abuse from happening to anyone else.
Growing up and into adulthood, the Cockeysville resident didn’t have to think much about relationship violence beyond what she’d seen in “The Burning Bed,” a 1984 movie in which Farrah Fawcett stands trial for the murder of her physically and sexually abusive husband.
She didn’t know relationship abuse could be so insidious, difficult to recognize or that it could happen to independent young women like her daughter Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old lacrosse player who was killed by her ex-boyfriend 10 years ago. The death brought national attention to the Loves and the University of Virginia, where Yeardley was a student and where her murder took place.
“When this happened it was so surreal that anything like that could’ve happened, to Yeardley especially,” Love said.
“I wanted to do something,” said the Baltimore native. “I wanted to let other parents, make other parents aware that this is real and it’s out there and I was totally blindsided — and hopefully we can change the statistics.”
The One Love Foundation was founded by Sharon Love and her daughter Lexie Hodges in the wake of Yeardley’s death — and named for her jersey number, which was 1. The organization uses a network of staff and volunteers across the country to educate students as early as middle school to recognize the signs of relationship violence and abuse and eliminate the statistic that roughly one in three women — and one in four men, and one in two transgender and nonbinary partners — will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives, according to the foundation.
Love this year was named an AARP Purpose Prize fellow for establishing the nonprofit organization.
“By honoring Yeardley’s legacy, Sharon has helped thousands of young adults recognize and avoid abusive relationships. Her work is truly an inspiration," Barbara Quaintance, AARP’s vice president of enterprise awards strategy, said in a statement.
Last year alone, the nonprofit visited more than 77,500 students in 400 middle schools, high schools and secondary education institutions in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia region alone, said Ojeda Hall, director of the regional division.
The goal is to equip students with the language to identify the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Unhealthy relationships, for instance, can be characterized by manipulation, in which a person passive aggressively tries to control the actions, emotions or decisions of their partner, friend or family member.
That can often take the form of “gaslighting,” or making victims question their own perception of a given event, causing them to become distrustful of their own ability to understand when mistreatment is occurring.
And relationship abuse is often not characterized by physical acts. Emotional abuse can have a longer-term impact on the victim “from a mental health perspective,” said Katie Hood, chief executive officer of the One Love Foundation and a family friend of the Loves.
In a healthy relationship, by contrast, both parties take responsibility for their words and behavior, especially when it causes pain. Healthy relationships are based on respect and trust, and allow those involved room to breathe and have autonomy.
Hood said their strategy is based on prevention.
“When you choose a strategy of prevention … you quickly learn you have to get the knowledge, skills and mindsets out to your community at younger and younger ages,” she said.
The workshops, administered by local, trained volunteers at schools and other community organizations, feature several short films tailored to different age groups, teach young viewers the difference between healthy and unhealthy displays of love, and home in on those signs in other videos. One film shows how an abuser uses gaslighting and manipulation to confuse and undermine his partner. Another shows how abusers can use declarations of love to coerce and control their partner, and to justify abuse.
Defining the signs “gives people a language for what we previously coded as emotion,” Hood said. When you can name the behavior, you can flag it and start a conversation with the person demonstrating it.
“Love is learned,” Hood said. It’s “not just a feeling and emotion, it’s a skill you can build and bring intention to it. We can all love better.”
The workshops are also meant to equip viewers with the knowledge to go out and educate their peers, directly or indirectly, outside a school setting.
“Given the magnitude, if we rely on experts to teach us about the issue, there are never going to be enough experts,” Hood said.
And that’s important because peers are the first ones who can intervene when they notice signs of abuse in their circles.
In Yeardley’s case, Hood said a domestic violence expert would have immediately identified the red flags, given her ex-boyfriend’s aggressive, drunken and controlling behavior.
The nonprofit also offer resources to help determine when one is in an abusive relationships and help them create a plan to leave those relationships with the myPlan app, developed with Johns Hopkins University.
The foundation has led workshops on U.S. Navy ships and in the training rooms of college sports teams. Yeardley’s ex-boyfriend, Bethesda native George Wesley Huguely V, who was sentenced in 2012 to 23 years in prison for second-degree murder, was a Virginia lacrosse player.
Reports of domestic abuse by members of the military and athletes are more prevalent than in other groups.
The nonprofit is working to track the effectiveness of the workshops with a study on Naval officers that is currently being peer-reviewed, Hood said.
But in post-workshop surveys, 90% of participants said they understand the resources available if they or a loved one is in an abusive relationship.
And anecdotally, Hood said reports of domestic violence among Midshipmen — which usually occur just after they return home from service — decreased significantly.
The nonprofit is also keen on making its work inclusive with sessions on LGBTQ relationships, abuse in relationships with disabled partners, and using the signs of relationship violence to deconstruct racial discrimination.
They’ve also collaborated with local groups, like Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore, to create short films that better relate to the experiences of the students in which they’re being shown.
“They’re telling stories about trauma in families, they’re telling stories about the incredible amount of responsibility that they have, the pressure they face when their friends are dying,” said Hall, who helps coordinate Baltimore programs. “Those losses of foundational relationships really impact our young people’s ability to build healthy relationships.”
The foundation this year pivoted to an online setting, launching a virtual education center that requires one to register to view training materials and resources, including information on how volunteers can bring sessions to their communities.
The need for the virtual resources amid the coronavirus pandemic is highlighted by reports of worsened domestic violence under social distancing edicts and business shutdowns.
‘She was as wonderful as I thought was’
For Sharon Love, Yeardley lives in her memory as someone who went out of her way to be good to others. She remembers the phone calls and emails from parents of lacrosse players and others, like the cook in Yeardley’s sorority house who told stories of the young woman’s kindness and encouragement.
She remembers a girl with a dream to attend the University of Virginia, the alma mater of her father, who died of cancer when Yeardley was in ninth grade. She’s proud of the hard work Yeardley did when she got there, majoring in political science and minoring in Spanish.
She gets emotional when she thinks about the Virginia lacrosse game in Yeardley’s memory, when her former teammates held up signs with the number 1 as team officials announced Yeardley’s jersey number would be retired.
Yeardley would have graduated the year she was killed.
“You feel like you know everything about your children, and then so many nice things came back to me” after her death, Love said. “She was as wonderful as I thought she was.”
Since her death, Yeardley has been honored by US Lacrosse with a statue unveiled this year outside its national headquarters in Sparks. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger supported a resolution declaring May 3 National One Love Day to spread awareness about relationship violence.
She’s been gone a decade, but Love says it still feels like Yeardley is here.
“I would just like to see her here,” she said.