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Daughter's Death Pushes Mom To Fight Dating Abuse


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Now it's time to go behind closed doors. That's the part of the program where we talk about things that people usually keep private, and our conversation today focuses on a topic that affects millions of people every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four women has been a victim of dating or domestic violence. Women make up 70 percent of those killed by an intimate partner. That according to the latest data from the Bureau of Justice statistics.

And while a lot of people think domestic violence only affects some people - certainly nobody good looking, educated, white, middle class - but it does. And unfortunately that lesson keeps getting relearned in tragic fashion. In 2010, Sharon Love's daughter Yeardley was a senior at the University of Virginia. Just weeks before graduation, Yeardley was beaten to death by her former boyfriend and fellow student, George Huguely. He was later convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison.

To honor her daughter's memory, Sharon Love decided to start a foundation to raise awareness about relationship violence. The organization is called the One Love Foundation, and Sharon Love is with us now.

Thank you. And I can only say how sorry I am for the loss of your daughter. I'm so very sorry.

SHARON LOVE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you for speaking with us about this topic.

LOVE: Yeah. It's close to my heart - a topic that is close to my heart.

MARTIN: Would you mind talking a little bit about your daughter before we get into the details? Just tell us a little bit about her for people who didn't have the opportunity to know her.

LOVE: Yeardley was fun-loving, kind to everyone, knew everyone and just so happy, and she was studious and she was athletic and there are so many adjectives that I can't think of all of them to describe Yeardley. She was just wonderful.

MARTIN: And she was active, she played sports, she was a good student. You know, she had teammates, she had friends. You know, all of the above. Right?

LOVE: Yes, she did. She had the whole circle.

MARTIN: Which is why I think people do have a hard time understanding how - and I'm not making her responsible for what George Huguely did. I just want to clarify that. But I did want to ask, you know, why you think it was that she was connected to him at all.

LOVE: I don't think these people start out as monsters. I think they start out as charming and fun-loving and attractive. I don't think you know the other side of them for quite a while, and by the time Yeardley knew his other side, it was actually too late.

MARTIN: Did she ever express any concerns about his behavior to you or to her sister, for example? Your older daughter Lexie is also involved in the foundation. Did she ever say anything to either of you about him?

LOVE: No, not really. There was one time when she was at school and he held her down, and that was one incident and there were two weeks to go before graduation and nobody thought that it would go any further than that. They were totally separated after that. He didn't go out. I think he was remorseful for what he did and that all fell apart one day and he broke into Yeardley's room and - and killed her.

MARTIN: I know you've thought a lot about this since. I mean, how could you not? But is there - is there anything that, in hindsight, with all the education and the thinking about this that you've done and educating yourself about this issue - is there something that you could point to now that you didn't know then?

LOVE: Violence was, like, 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 and we've hooked up now with Hopkins University and - with the One Love Foundation - and Hopkins University has 20 years of research that they've shared with us and, through the research I'm learning every day of signs and things that we should look out for that we were totally unaware of. And I think probably most people that have never been involved in any type of a violent situation would not be aware of either.

MARTIN: Is there anything you could tell us now? I understand this is a very complex topic. Could you just give us a couple of things that we can think about?

LOVE: We have an app that's free for everyone and the app will give you 20 questions and you answer those questions, and, at the end of the questionnaire, they will tell you exactly how much danger you're in and they also will direct you to where to go for help or what to be aware of. I think it's also good to take the test, even if you're not seeing anyone, because you may be alerted to something before it even gets started.

MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, though, you're - and if you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Sharon Love. She's the founder of the One Love Foundation. It's an organization she started to honor her daughter, Yeardley.

You know, to that end, speaking of kind of that shock of recognition, your foundation recently released an emotional public service announcement that really called upon - it really is directed at I think toward the bystanders, you know, people in a person's life who may see something going on. The ad features like a couple where the violence is escalating and it sees them being surrounded by people who were just watching this doing nothing and it kind of shows what their thoughts are. You know, is well, you know, it's none of my business. Or well, you know, if I say something I'll, I won't - I'm friends with them both it's not, you know, it's not my place to get - oh, well, it's not that bad. And I, you know, it's pretty powerful stuff. I just wanted to ask you to talk a little bit about that.

LOVE: Yeah. I think right now domestic violence is still kind of underground and is not a topic that people really talk about. I've had so many people call me and write the foundation with stories saying that they've never told anybody that they were a victim of abuse. And I think there's so many people out there - statistically one out of three - and we're hoping to bring this into daylight. It's nothing for a girl to be ashamed about. The perpetrator should be the one that is ashamed. And we're hoping to shine the light on him and say what makes you think you are allowed to do something like that, how preposterous it is. And we have to change attitudes. Just like the Mothers Against Drunk Divers changed attitudes about drunk driving, we have to change attitudes about domestic violence and we have to turn it on its ear.

MARTIN: And when we talk about attitudes toward domestic violence, what do you think those attitudes are that most need to be changed?

LOVE: I think it's somewhat acceptable. If you look at singers, movie stars, actors that have blatantly abused women, no one's outraged by that behavior. It seems to just come and go when there's no outcry. It's almost acceptable.

MARTIN: Speaking of which, has George Huguely ever apologized to you or your family? Has he ever tried to explain his behavior?

LOVE: No, he hasn't. He made one statement at the sentencing, which was: I'm sorry for your loss and I hope you'll find peace. But no, he never took any responsibility for what he did.

MARTIN: And what about his family? Did they ever have any explanation for his behavior?

LOVE: No. We've never spoken.

MARTIN: I just want to ask how you are? How are you and how are your family doing? This is still very fresh. I mean, this is not very long ago. How are you doing?

LOVE: We have our ups and downs but we kind of thrown our self into the foundation and we hope to help prevent this from ever happening to another family. It's almost a race of time. Just this past week, I've heard of two other girls were murdered by their boyfriends and we hope to be able to stop this and make it totally unacceptable.

MARTIN: Do you think the fact that, you know, Yeardley was so - you know, people have seen pictures. I mean we have all seen pictures of her on the news and, you know, such a beautiful girl and so talented, you know, athletic, you know, the whole package. I wonder if in some ways that worked against her in this, is that people didn't think she needed any help.

LOVE: I think her error was to be naive and not think that he was capable of doing something like that. I think she hoped for the best. And she had never been spanked a day in her life. We've never spanked a dog. My husband carried her on his shoulder till she got too big like she was a princess and so she was strong. She had her own - her self-confidence was strong but she was naive to what others are capable of, and that's I think where app will come in handy to, like, people if you look at it you take this test you'll have to realize that there is danger involved that it's beyond what you can control and you've got to do something about it.

MARTIN: What do you think she would've taken the test? If the test had been available, would she have taken it? I mean, would she have recognized that there was danger there?

LOVE: I would hope so. Yes. I can't - in hindsight I can't say for sure, but I would hope so, yes. When this was happening there was absolutely nothing available, including a restraining order. Virginia, you had to either live with a person or be married to the person to get a restraining order so there was nowhere to turn, basically. So if this was available I would think a lot of girls would use it because it is a tool. It's something real. It's not saying this is what you should look for, this is what you should avoid. This is a tool that you can use and answer questions and come up with a fact of how much danger you're really in.

MARTIN: Now, I understand that this is a long journey. And again, we have to say how sorry I am that anybody has gone through this. But before we go, just for today, what's the one thing you'd like to leave us with, other families? What would you want them to know?

LOVE: One thing for everybody I'd like to know is I'd liked them to stand up to this and not tolerate it. Make it an abhorrent behavior. And to families that are going through the same thing, I wish I had something to say that would make it better but I don't. I think attitudes have to change about domestic violence and that's what's going to stop it. Girls can't just be told to look for this or look for that or do this or do that. The whole society has to see it as a abhorrent behavior and stop it.

MARTIN: Sharon Love is the founder of the One Love Foundation. It's an organization that aims to raise awareness about relationship violence. And she was kind enough to join us from WYPR in Baltimore, Maryland.

Sharon Love, thank you for speaking with us.

LOVE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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