Domestic Violence

Mother of Slain UVA Student Fights Domestic Violence

The mother of a domestic abuse victim speaks out

Media Relations University of Virginia, via AP; UPI, via Landov

During the 21 years of slain University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love’s life, domestic violence was never discussed in her household.

“We never lifted a hand to anyone, even the dog, so it was not even on our radar that it was possible,” says Yeardley’s mother, Sharon Love. “We were really naive about domestic violence—it never even crossed our minds.”

Love’s daughter Yeardley made national news in May, 2010, just weeks before she was set to graduate from the University of Virginia, when she was found dead after allegedly being beaten to death. Her former boyfriend, George Huguely, 25, has been found guilty of second-degree murder. Love said she and Yeardley’s sister Lexie are still in “disbelief” that this could have happened. Domestic violence, she says, “eluded me my whole life—I never knew anyone who was abused. But as I am learning now, there are so many people who have been abused.” Yeardley’s death has led Love to seek action: she started a foundation called One Love that is focused on not just stopping domestic violence, but also making teens more aware of the risk. The foundation has created an app that allows users to fill out a questionnaire about their relationship, and then ranks the danger of it turning violent. The app is free to download, and it does not leave a record on the mobile device—meaning that it can’t be traced by the user’s partner. Since it became publicly available in September, it has already been downloaded 20,000 times. Love is just one of 300 leaders in the domestic violence community who will bring her message of awareness to the Verizon Wireless Domestic Violence Prevention Summit on Thursday in New York. Organized by Verizon in partnership with the nonprofit organizations Break the Cycle, Casa de Esperanza, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and Men Can Stop Rape, the summit will cover topics as diverse as addressing the violence among veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to how men can stop domestic violence. Called A Day to Connect and Heal: Domestic Violence in the Spotlight, viewers can join in the conversation by submitting questions to the panelists. The event will be livestreamed at Verizon Insider and can be watched below.

Viewers can also donate their old wireless phones and accessories HopeLine from Verizon, a program that gives phones and other vital resources to domestic violence survivors.

By some estimates, one in four women, one in seven men, and 3 million children are affected by domestic violence each year—and victims often suffer in silence. This is a topic that 19-year-old Jasmine Villegas, a singer and a survivor of an abusive relationship, already knows about. She will join Love at the summit discussion about how to prevent teen violence. She’ll also perform. Last year Villegas ended a year-long relationship with a man who was physically abusive. And while Yeardley broke up with Huguely after he allegedly assaulted her while drunk, Villegas kept quiet about her boyfriend while they were together.

“I hid it from my manager, my parents, my family—I had an excuse for every mark on my body,” Villegas says. After Villegas moved into her own apartment, her boyfriend threw a table through the window, and “some guy I had never even seen before, he saw me crying and called the cops.” Villegas broke up with her boyfriend, and then put a number for a domestic violence hotline on her music video for a song called “Didn’t Mean It.” Calls immediately began increasing at the hotline—and Villegas realized the power of awareness.

Villegas said some of her fans have told her that her songs have helped them get out of a violent situation or help a friend or family member in one. “It’s a good feeling to know that I could help them,” she says.