THE BLOG
07/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Domestic Violence, Missed Opportunities, and Murder


On Monday, May 3, University of Virginia senior George Huguely was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after being suspected of killing Yeardley Love, a fellow senior with whom he had been romantically involved.

Huguely was the apparent model of achievement: starting quarterback, honor roll student, and lacrosse all-American athlete at the renowned Landon School, a private high school in suburban Maryland. Huguely went on to become a celebrated scholar-athlete at the University of Virginia (UVA). Huguely also came to be known for his temper and bad behavior having had run-ins with the law while intoxicated on two separate occasions, in 2008 and in 2009. His relationship with Ms. Love had recently ended, and according to several reports, Huguely told police he "was involved in an altercation" with Love, during which he shook her and her head repeatedly hit the wall.

It is tragic that this young girl's life, so full of hope and promise, has been lost. It is tragic that the lives of her friends, family members, fellow students, and teammates are now forever changed. It is even tragic that this young man, with a lifetime of gifts and advantages, was misguided enough to behave as he did. Yes, all of these things are sad and tragic. But perhaps the greatest tragedy is how we have failed them both.

Surely there were signs of rage and possible danger. Were these signs unnoticed or hushed up? Perhaps the warning signs were masked by a blinding ignorance about domestic violence and its many evils. Perhaps the signs were seen but ignored for fear that revealing them would lead to an uncomfortable discussion. Whatever the explanation, our collective failure to heed these signs, and a young man's inability to cope with his anger contributed to Ms. Love's tragic death.
How could this man have navigated through his formative years and matriculated from fine educational institutions yet prove to be so ill-prepared to manage his emotions and respect the life of another?

What responsibility do educational institutions have to their students? I am not suggesting that the school was at fault or played any role in Ms. Love's death. The individuals involved should both be held accountable for their own actions. The deeper question that comes to mind is, what does an education really deliver? If students can't manage their own personal lives, such as dealing with anger, healthy relationships, and open communication, then what is the value of their talent as engineers, doctors, writers, teachers, or musicians? Some may never even get the chance to find out - like Ms. Love, who is now gone, and Huguely, who will surely face serious consequences if convicted.

W need to re-examine what it means to be "ready" to start life in the real world. We expect our universities to provide quality education and a safe environment- a solid foundation from which to start a productive life and career. But shouldn't colleges deliver more? As educators, we need to give students the tools to focus on broader issues of public safety.

Domestic violence exists in a space where law enforcement often cannot penetrate and the community often won't participate. Yet there is a crucial need for action in this area, considering that 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime. The question is not if we should empower students with information on domestic violence, but when. We need to teach students how to react to conflict without resorting to abusive behavior.

The university environment is an ideal place to educate future generations on intimate life skills.Colleges are often the first place students find their independence and the last safe harbor before the harsh realities of the world envelop them. Why shouldn't we take advantage of this unique opportunity to educate students on developing interpersonal skills to match their academic training?

For Becky's Fund, prevention is the centerpiece of our approach to tackling domestic violence. There are always warning signs that, if taken seriously, can provide vital opportunities to intervene before a tragedy occurs. In a world where the public seems more interested in the spectacle of failure than the prospect of prevention, it is an uphill battle. But for the sake of people like Ms. Love, we must do more than trade in fancy rhetoric. We must adopt a proactive approach to dealing with domestic violence. We must use the available tools and resources to promote a safe environment where asking for help is accepted and encouraged.

Through our outreach programs, Becky's Fund reaches young men and women and provides them with the tools to understand what a healthy relationship should look like, and the skills to cope with challenges they may face. Our Domestic Violence College Tour focuses on teaching the warning signs of dating violence along with resources on how to get help and give help to a friend in need. Through our partnership with the Girl Scouts, we are teaching young girls about self-empowerment and respect, building a strong foundation for leadership and success. We are also working with community leaders to promote best practices and install curricula into schools to encourage healthy and safe relationships.

Freedom from domestic violence. It's our right.®

For more information about Becky's Fund and the work we do to prevent and end domestic violence, please visit www.beckysfund.org.