By Leslie Morgan Steiner
Parents, teachers and kids across Washington reacted with shock to Monday’s Washington Post front page headline  that a handsome University of Virginia senior from an elite local all-boys prep school had been charged in killing another UVA senior and former girlfriend. Both victim and perpetrator were young, white, accomplished athletes who graduated from DC-area schools in 2006. Yeardley Love went to Notre Dame Prep, a Catholic all-girls school in nearby Baltimore, and George Huguely was a football quarterback and lacrosse star at Landon, an old-boys school on acres of manicured green fields in Bethesda, Maryland. Apparently everyone who knew Yeardley Love and George Huguely  missed the warning signs that this talented young man from a wealthy local family had devastatingly serious problems with rage.
Here are the warning signs about George Huguely’s problems with alcohol, his inability to maintain close personal relationships, and trouble taming his anger:
2006 – Landon names him “Top Prankster” for escapades such as stealing a coach’s car and propositioning another coach’s fiancée.
2007 – Florida police charge him with underage alcohol possession near his family’s vacation home; during the same year, Huguely is charged with driving 70 mph in a 55 zone .
2008 – Florida police intervene after Huguely bizarrely jumps into the ocean to swim ¼ mile to shore during an argument with his father on the family’s 40-foot fishing boat.
2008 – Female police officer in Lexington, VA uses a taser to subdue and arrest Huguely for public swearing, intoxication and resisting arrest. Despite UVA regulations mandating university notification of a student’s arrest, Huguely conceals his 60-day suspended sentence, probation, fine, community service and mandatory substance abuse treatment.
2009 – Begins romantic relationship with UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
2009 -- Attacks a sleeping teammate  who had walked home and allegedly kissed Love. UVA lacrosse coach Dom Starsia disciplines both players.
2010 – Three University of North Carolina lacrosse players intervene to separate Huguely from Love  during a campus party in Charlottesville.
April 2010 – Love ends the relationship. Huguely reacts with rage, documented by email diatribes.
May 2, 2010 – Late Sunday night, Huguely breaks into Love’s off-campus apartment, kicks down her locked bedroom door, and repeatedly smashes her head into a wall, killing her. He leaves her for dead face-down in her bloody pillow. When confronted by police the next morning, Huguely confesses to killing Love; his lawyer quickly claims her death was accidental.
Whew. To me the pattern is crystal clear: like most adult perpetrators of abuse, this young man must have experienced some degree of emotional or physical exploitation during his childhood, and was acting out within his intimate relationship with Love. Huguely’s increasingly violent acts are a stark reminder that domestic violence, whose hallmarks of control and manipulation often emerge in late adolescence, afflicts even the most well-educated, mainstream members of our society. Even the lethality of his final attack is somewhat predictable: domestic violence experts caution that a break-up marks the most dangerous time in a relationship because abandonment triggers an abuser’s deadliest tendencies.
However, instead of seeing a pattern of uncontrolled rage and possessiveness, everyone I know has speculated on culprits beyond George Huguely: Is it something about the lacrosse culture ? Being immersed in an all-boys school where Respect For Women is not emphasized sufficiently? Did Huguely experience “too much” privilege in early life – intelligence, wealth, good looks, popularity among his teammates and peers – and miss character-building empathy as a result?
Unfortunately or fortunately, I see the red flags of domestic violence clearly now. But like Yeardley Love, at 22 I had no idea how dangerous falling for an angry young man could be. I grew up only a few miles from George Huguely and Yeardley Love in a privileged family without any violence. I played soccer and softball on the same fields where Huguely and Love played 30 years later. I attended a local private school and did well enough to get into Harvard College. I too was a victim of domestic violence  in my early 20s, when living large in New York City shortly after graduation, working at Seventeen Magazine, spending my evenings at Danceteria and Limelight. My abuser reminds me uncannily of George Huguely: handsome, smart, an accomplished athlete with a Black Belt in Karate and a Black Sash in Kung Fu, a coveted job on Wall Street. He too was emerging from a childhood dominated by anger and abuse, nicely camouflaged by academic and professional accolades like his Ivy League diploma and blessings from the Wall Street hiring gods.
Like Yeardley Love, and millions of other victims of intimate partner violence, I missed every warning sign that I was falling for a troubled man whose anger would endanger my life. All the battered women stereotypes I knew mistakenly portrayed victims as uneducated, poverty-stricken women trapped by low self-esteem. It took me years to realize I was a battered woman too, and that I needed our society’s help to escape and rebuild my life.
In order to assist both victims and perpetrators of intimate violence, our culture must reconfigure our images of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Anyone can be a victim – or perpetrator -- of intimate partner violence, no matter what college you attend, sorority you belong to, or athletic medals line your parents’ mantel. According Centers for Disease Control data, every day three women are killed in America by intimate partners. If Yeardley Love and George Huguely had known they too were vulnerable, perhaps Love would still be alive and Huguely would be in a counseling program for potential batterers instead of jail.
If you or someone you love is being abused, free anonymous help and intervention are available. You can call 1-800-799-SAFE or visit the following websites: www.ndvh.org , www.loveisnotabuse.com , or www.lesliemorgansteiner.com