The XX Factor

What George Huguely’s Murder Conviction Can Teach Us About Domestic Violence

On Wednesday, George Huguely was found guilty in the murder of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, fellow University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love. He was given a prison sentence of 26 years. Their affair was marked by heated public arguments, nasty email exchanges, and even violence. For over a year, I was involved in a relationship similar to Love and Huguely’s, replete with several break-ups and make-ups that devolved into an act of violence.

The night that the incident occurred I had just arrived back on campus following Thanksgiving break. We had broken up for good right before the holiday. I was not expecting my boyfriend “John” to be back in the state much less knocking on my door that night. The conversation started out okay, but it quickly disintegrated. Ultimately our fighting led to John grabbing me by the collar of my robe, shaking me back and forth and then throwing me into the door screaming the whole time that he was going to kill me. In an eerie coincidence with Yeardley Love, I, too, ended up lying on the floor clad only in my underwear. (My robe came off in the attack.)

After much consideration and speaking it over with friends, I reported the incident to the campus police. I wasn’t expecting much to happen before I met with the police and I expected even less after the officer who took my report paused in the middle of writing in his notebook and said, “So what? My girlfriend and I fight all the time, too.” John never faced any repercussions for his actions. After a 10-minute hearing before the school’s honor council, I received a letter from a dean in which I was strongly advised not to talk about the incident and to put the “unfortunate” incident behind me. As time passed, I barely thought about the assault until May of 2010 when the Huguely-Love incident, which occurred less than three miles from my house, came to the public’s attention.

Unfortunately little has changed in the way that most universities view domestic violence on campus. According to The Red Flag Campaign, a project of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, 21 percent of all college couples are involved in relationships where one partner is being abused. Yet, few colleges seem to take these seriously, or at least it seems that way judging by how few of them release their domestic violence statistics or mention even how report incidences of domestic violence to the administration in their handbooks or websites. Title IX declares that students should be protected from sexual harassment and assault but does not protect them from domestic violence. In some states, victims do not even have the option of obtaining restraining orders because the law does not allow people to get them against  people to whom they are not married or related. (Virginia was one such state that only changed the law following Love’s death.)

Could part of that be because somehow, there is a perception that college isn’t really the real world or lies between a bubble and the real world? Or perhaps it’s that elite universities have a reputation to uphold, one that is marred by domestic violence.

While many media outlets seem to be drawn to the Hugely trial because of the issues it raises about class, money, and the treatment of athletes on fancy college campuses, the real focus should be on domestic violence. Here’s hoping that once the verdict is read and the media has moved on to another high-profile case, the problem of domestic violence on campus will not be forgotten and the senseless death of Yeardley Love will not have totally have been in vain.