Friday, May 07, 2010
What We Can Learn from UVA
I really need to stop watching the Today show while I get ready for work in the mornings. Occasionally, I’ll pick up some good tips, like the one about almond milk as a delicious lactose substitute (thanks, Al Roker!), but more often than not, particularly with stories related to sexual and domestic violence, I end up seething with rage and shouting at the TV while I iron my pants.
And so it was on Thursday morning, when I saw in the teasers that Meredith would be interviewing Criminal Profiler Pat Brown on the tragic murder of UVA senior Yeardley Love. To lose a loved one to violence is always a tragedy for the families and friends and communities of victims, but this case is particularly difficult because Yeardley (as with many other victims of domestic violence homicides) was about to make the jump into the next phase of her life. She would have graduated with her classmates on May 23rd.
As the video package continued, we learned more about the relationship that Ms. Love had recently ended with George Huguely, a fellow lacrosse player and senior at UVA, who is now charged with first degree murder in her death. The facts surrounding this case paint a frightening picture.
It would seem that Huguely, who lived next door to Love, was prone to aggressive behavior, particularly when he had been drinking. In the incident that led to his 2008 arrest for public drunkenness and resisting arrest, Huguely stated to the female arresting officer, ” ‘I’ll kill all you b*tches’” and “shouted other threatening, profane language.”
Notably, Huguely’s friends and teammates knew him to be violent when drunk: “A friend of Huguely’s who played lacrosse with him in summer leagues told the Daily News that Huguely ‘partied really hard and when he was drunk or f——- up, he could be violent. He would get out of control.’”
And indeed, others had noticed Huguely’s behavior towards Love escalating in aggression: “Huguely was described by the summer league teammate as ‘obsessive,’ constantly texting and calling Love, to the point that people close to her worried about the relationship.”
In another report, “the two had been in physical altercations before, including at a party near campus this spring, according to two students who were there. Those students, both athletes at Virginia, said they did not want their names to be published for fear of retribution from their teammates, who have chosen not to speak to reporters.”
Finally: “A former Virginia student who was friends with both Love and Huguely described a disturbing incident in which Huguely recently reportedly attacked Love, then had no recollection of it the next day, which precipitated their final breakup. ‘He was really messed up and punched a window of a car on the way over to her apartment that night,’ the friend said, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of consideration for Love’s family. The friend said Huguely had been seen breaking bottles at another party before Love’s death and had told people he was going to her apartment to get Love back.”
Media reports have detailed Huguely’s statements to police that he had sent Love threatening emails, which was why he had removed her laptop from her room. He directed police to where they could find it, and police and prosecutors are in the process of trying to recover the messages.
Given those circumstances, I was prepared for an incisive, illuminating commentary from Ms. Brown. With her background as a criminal profiler, I expected her to…I don’t know…profile the suspect in this case? How does his behavior match up with the profile of other young men who have killed their current or former partners? What were the factors in this case that created barriers to Love and Huguely’s friends, family, teammates, and fellow students intervening in his violent and obsessive behavior in the past, before it got to this point?
I stopped ironing, filled with gleeful anticipation. Oh, Today show and Criminal Profiler Pat Brown, how you crushed my optimism beneath the heel of your victim blaming and superficial, irrelevant analysis. Rather than focusing on the murder, the events leading up to the crime, or the violence and stalking behavior that had apparently been going on in full view of their friends, Ms. Brown zeroed in instead on the problem of “young ladies” who “get into these relationships” without really knowing the person. (Note: I am paraphrasing here because I can’t find the video clip online, but if someone links it in the comments, I can embed it .) Her solution, “regardless if anything happens in this case” (I presume she means a conviction on the first-degree murder charge), is for “the young ladies” to slow their roll, particularly with regard to “sexual relationships.”
Here is the only point of agreement between Criminal Profiler Pat Brown and myself, though I have taken the liberty of restating her view so that it is in some way relevant or useful: young people should be given concrete skills to recognize and seek out honest, equitable, responsible, and respectful relationships. Certainly, they should have practice and examples for recognizing those characteristics in their own relationships (and this includes friend, peer, and other relationships, not just dating and sexual relationships). But, and perhaps more importantly, they should be given skills for how to talk to their friends and peers (or seek out others who can talk to them) when those individuals are behaving in ways that are disrespectful, aggressive, or violent.
Yeardley Love was not a victim of her own poor judgment, or lack of judgment. She was a victim of a violent crime, perpetrated (by his own admission to police), by George Huguely. I don’t believe that George Huguely emerged from the womb a violent, entitled, monstrous human being, destined to kill. I believe that he grew into an attractive, young man who was a very skilled senior lacrosse player on the top-ranked team in the NCAA. I don’t believe that his relationship with Yeardley Love started with smashed glass, blows, and threats. They were from similar backgrounds, shared similar interests, and had many friends in common. I believe that he also grew into a young man whose problematic use of alcohol was used to camouflage and excuse his aggressive behavior, and that he moved in a social circle where those around him were impressed by and afraid of him.
I also believe that by the time George Huguely kicked in the locked door of Yeardley Love’s room that night, it was too late for either of them to singlehandedly have prevented that murder from occurring. Ms. Love had already been attacked, in public, on more than one occasion, and no one had intervened to help her, so what expectation did she have that anyone would stop him when they were alone? He had never borne any consequences or received any negative feedback (that we know of) for his previous aggressive behavior, so it’s easy to imagine that he believed himself entitled to punish Ms. Love for ending the relationship.
What is most illuminating here is the number of Love and Huguely’s friends and family who have refused to speak on the record about these incidents, citing in various cases respect for Love’s family and fear of retaliation from other friends and teammates who see speaking out about the violence as a betrayal of the bonds between teammates and friends.
In my mind, that is the attitude that needs adjusting here. Love and friendship mean checking someone’s behavior well before it escalates to the level that George Huguely’s had. Being a good and loyal teammate does not mean ignoring or minimizing violence because you wear the same uniform, it means holding a fellow player to the same standard of excellence off the field as on, and showing them how to be better when they perhaps lack the skills.