In Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is a handsome, successful 1980s Wall Street investment banker, born and raised in the lap of luxury. He is also, of course, a cold-blooded rapist, torturer, and killer. When he begins to confess or hint at his murderous activities to those around him, people misunderstand him or assume he is joking. He does not have the face of a killer; people are so focused on his image that they can't--or won't--see what lurks beneath the surface.
Early Sunday morning, George Huguely, a lacrosse player at the University of Virginia, allegedly murdered his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, a fellow lacrosse player and senior at UVA. According to reports, he kicked in her door, pushed her, and slammed her head into the wall repeatedly. Huguely came from Chevy Chase, MD, a nice suburb of Washington DC, where he attended Landon, a private school.
Shouldn't there have been some early signs of his anger management problems? Not if no one was looking.
Like the characters surrounding the handsome Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, we have a tendency to elevate wealthy, good-looking college athletes to God-like status. Their aggression is often viewed as part of their particular brand of charm. It is time to rethink the cultural norms that convince us to excuse aggression.
Any solution to domestic violence must involve the community. When it comes to students, schools and colleges are a central part of their community. There are good programs out there at the secondary and university level that can be utilized to raise awareness of dating issues and combat, or prevent, domestic violence.
Early adolescence, the time spent in middle school and high school, is a critically formative time for young people to develop healthy ideas about relationships and conflict resolution. This requires two things: educating youth, and fostering a school environment that is safe and open to reports of abuse.
Becky's Fund, a national non-profit focused on domestic violence prevention and education, has launched a domestic violence college tour, presented to over 200 schools over the last three years. We have also partnered with Girl Scouts to teach young girls about healthy relationships, respect, and protecting oneself mentally and physically. Becky's Fund holds public awareness events with youth to address warning signs of dating violence as well as resources for help. We use courses, online programs, and Public Service Announcements to address dating violence and resources to get help.
The tools to combat dating violence exist. But educators must use them.
If UVA's confused response to the murder is any indication, not enough is being done to deal with domestic violence. The school sent out an email with safety tips including a reminder to be aware while crossing the street, and advised students to avoid letting strangers into locked buildings. While those are generally good things to keep in mind, they have little to do with the act of domestic violence that happened between Love and her ex-boyfriend, Huguely.
Had UVA responded with relevant information, advice, and resources, it would have made a difference--but it would still fall short. UVA must take steps to prevent future cases of relationship violence. Schools cannot rely on reactionary approaches to dating abuse, they need to take proactive measures before a tragedy occurs.
Co-Authored by Julie Sobel, a volunteer for Becky's Fund and Becky Lee, Executive Director of Becky's Fund
For more information on Becky's Fund and the work they do to help end and prevent domestic violence, please visit www.beckysfund.org.