By Marilyn Fernandez
On May 3, 2010, Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student, was discovered by her roommates, dead in her bed, bruised, with a pool of blood on her pillow. Another UVA. student, George Huguely, has been charged with first-degree murder in his former girlfriend's death. Both came from privileged backgrounds, were star lacrosse players and were getting ready to graduate and move on to bright, successful futures. Yeardley Love’s death ended life as they both knew it, particularly for Yeardley, but also for Huguely, albeit in a different way.
Here is what we know based on newspaper reports of the violence. There was physical violence at least in the way he allegedly killed her and perhaps other forms also (such as sexual, verbal, intimidation, stalking) about which we might never know. There are reports of Huguely acting on his jealous rage (attack on a sleeping teammate for allegedly kissing Love), history of alcohol abuse even as a minor, and history of violent past run-ins with law enforcement.
This tragic incident and what we know of the troubled relationship (like the physical violence, anger, stalking, harassment, and property damage) raise several reflections and questions. It presents a classic case of intimate partner violence. It also reminds us that intimate partner violence does not discriminate across age, relationship status (dating), wealth and many other social characteristics (such as gender, sexual orientation, religion, presence of children, etc). Yet, apparently restraining orders and associated legal protections are not available in Virginia for victims in dating relationships. Also, don’t universities have responsibilities in helping their young students protect themselves from such violent and dangerous circumstances? How proactive are universities in this regard?
Other salient questions relate to what could happen to the accused Huguely, if he is found guilty? He could get some form of legal punishment (jail time, anger counseling, treatment for alcohol abuse, and/or community service when he gets out). The type and severity of punishment would depend on the laws in Virginia and how deftly Huguely’s lawyers might be able to get his sentence reduced. But, even if Huguely receives the maximum punishment for his offense, will it rehabilitate him? How does society make sure that he will not offend again? And how about the loss experienced by Yeardley, her family and friends? Yeardley is no more. But, even if Yeardley was alive and even after the legal process is completed, she probably, like many victims of intimate partner violence, might experience a hunger for healing, for a chance to let her abuser and her community know what the violence has done to her and what she has lost because of the violence. Intimate partner violence often silences victims and it is seldom that the victim’s voice is heard in the adversarial legal system. Also, how about the loss experienced by Yeardley’s parents, her siblings, and friends? In addition to the legal adjudication, might some form restorative justice encounters and intervention (face-to-face meetings, letters) with appropriate supervision, be appropriate? Through such encounters they can let Huguely know what they have lost and also how he could restore their losses. Of course, the choice of the restorative encounter format should ultimately be the choice of victim’s family. Restoration might involve requiring Huguely to work with other victims of intimate partner violence so that he understands how violence affects others. In the ultimate analysis, let’s hope that the lessons Huguely learns is that alcohol, anger, wealth, or athletic prowess, nothing, gives anyone the right to harm another.
Marilyn Fernandez is professor of sociology at Santa Clara University and author of Restorative Justice for Domestic Violence Victims: An Integrated Approach to Their Hunger for Healing.