The legacy of Yeardley Love

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Three years ago this month, University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Reynolds Love was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend. Yeardley was becoming the kind of young woman we all hope our daughters will grow up to be: Kind, fun, accomplished and talented. Her death was a loss not only for her family but also for our world.

Yeardley’s mother Sharon has founded the One Love Foundation to inform parents and teen women about the realities of dating violence and how it can be prevented. Sharon Love said to NPR’s Michelle Martin:

Violence was…not even on our radar at all. There was absolutely nothing that would have made us even think that anybody was capable of this. It was something that none of us thought that was ever possible.”

Research indicates that as many as one in three teen women experiences violence in a dating relationship. Young people witness or experience dating violence as early as middle school. Yet over 81% of parents say that they are not concerned about dating violence, or are not sure if they should be concerned.

Partner violence can occur in all kinds of relationships and people of all genders have the capacity to be violent. Nevertheless, instances of partner and sexual violence overwhelmingly follow the pattern of a man perpetrating against a woman.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes that “approximately 80% of female victims experienced their first rape before the age of 25 and almost half ex­perienced the first rape before age 18.” The vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by known assailants— often intimate partners. The World Health Organization concludes that, “One of the most important risk factors for women—in terms of their vulnerability to sexual assault—is being married or cohabitating with a [male] partner.”

These are dire facts that will alarm anyone who cares for girls and women. But there is also great hope coming from those who study violence and violence prevention.

The Centers for Disease Control observes that when neighbors, friends, and family members step up and create a climate that is inhospitable to domestic violence, rates of violence go down in that community. And emerging evidence indicates that how survivors are received by their communities following traumatic experiences of any type has enormous effect on their resilience and recovery.

Individuals and communities can learn the skills necessary to reduce violence and its negative effects. Together, we can develop the abilities to:

  • Assess and identify the warning signs of violence.
  • Talk openly and accurately with others about interpersonal violence.
  • Establish boundaries, intervene effectively and de-escalate conflict.
  • Physically resist or fight back if necessary.
  • Respond compassionately to survivors of violence.
  • Access resources to recover from violence.

On individual and societal levels, we take many steps to protect ourselves and one another. We install seatbelts in motor vehicles. We build buildings with sprinkler systems. We take the car keys from a friend who has had too many drinks. We wear helmets when we ride our bicycles. Individuals and communities can be similarly proactive about interpersonal violence.

The first step toward increasing our individual and collective safety is knowing the facts. Yeardley and Sharon Love remind us of a key fact: Young women are disproportionately at risk of relationship and sexual violence. And they are at risk from people they know.

All of us—but most especially, young women—must be educated about interpersonal violence. We must become practiced in skills that can interrupt, neutralize and defend against violent and sexual assault. And we must work together to create a safer world.