Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What UVA's Respone to Murder Case Says About Sexual Assault

NCAA LACROSSE: Virginia vs North Carolina - Big City ClassicGeorge Huguely playing lacrosse for UVA prior to his arrest. (Flickr / Alan Maglaque / Southcreek Global)

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville had a pretty horrifying case in which one lacrosse player, George Huguely, has been arrested in connection with the violent killing of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, a woman with whom he was romantically involved. The case itself is is still under investigation, but Amanda Hess over at the Washington City Paper's blog The Sexist notes that UVA's response has been, well, kind of dumb:

UVA police have instructed students how to avoid and/or respond to the following: An attack on the grounds of the university. Getting hit by a car. A late-night street attack. An attack by an unknown intruder. An attack through the window. An attack by a prowler. An attack by a peeping Tom. An attack by a suspicious filmmaker.

Police believe that Love was killed by a more likely suspect—a man she knew. In general, women, and particularly young women, are more likely to be killed by someone they know than by a stranger. So why hasn’t UVA included any information here about domestic violence?

Although the case at UVA is extreme -- we're talking about one student murdering another, potentially relating to the romantic relationship they had -- but other kinds of dating and romantic violence are far more common. As I've written before, our language around acquaintance or date rape in particular tends to be rather reductive.

When schools give advice to young women, it tends to be either of the "watch out for strangers in the bushes" variety or it cautions young women not to get "too drunk" and to stay in groups. I tend to think that such "strategies" for avoiding assault lead not only to women living in fear but also indicate that if young women just follow the rules set out for them, they'll avoid sexual assault. The result, of course, is ultimately that women who don't follow the rules have done something wrong.

Ultimately the danger, as Amanda points out, is that young women are most likely to be assaulted by those that they already know and trust. Schools would do well to better publicize domestic violence hotlines and education about how to get out of a relationship that involves violence.


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