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UVA Murder Verdict Will Embolden Crime Victims to Come Forward

The guilty verdict in the murder of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love will encourage crime victims to come forward and highlights the need for colleges to take action to prevent future acts of violence, according to women’s advocates.

George W. Huguely V, a former lacrosse player at the school, was convicted of second-degree murder yesterday in the 2010 beating death of Love, his sometime girlfriend. The jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, recommended a prison term of 25 years.

“Anytime offenders are clearly and seriously held accountable, that sends a very strong message to the community and to victims that these are crimes our nation takes seriously,” said Terri Poore, policy chair of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, a Washington advocacy group. “It will have a chilling effect on offenders and we think more victims will come forward.”

Love’s murder drew attention to sexual and domestic violence on college campuses and served as a catalyst to enact new laws and programs to combat it. In Virginia, it helped build momentum for a law pending in the legislature that would mandate coordination between campus and local police, said Kristi VanAudenhove, co-director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance in Richmond. It has reinforced the importance of programs to educate young men on campus about what is appropriate, she said.

Young men “now have a good sense of what they should not be doing, and that is a change,” VanAudenhove said in an interview. “Once you shift the culture, you can change the behavior.”

‘Do Something’

Huguely’s conviction may help students feel more comfortable coming forward and reporting potential domestic violence incidents on campuses, said Melissa Lucchesi, director of program services at Security on Campus Inc., an advocacy group based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

If bystanders “see something happening and have that gut feeling when something is off or wrong, this may encourage them to do something about it,” Lucchesi said in an interview. Students may be on the fence about whether it’s their business to report incidents and the verdict “may motivate students to not just turn their heads,” she said.

Until recently, many colleges and universities didn’t take the issue of domestic violence seriously, said Poore, of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

“Campuses need to send a strong signal, not just five minutes in orientation but throughout their policies and procedures, that these incidents are taken very seriously,” Poore said.

Title IX

The U.S. Education Department brought the issue into focus by sending a letter to colleges in April 2011, reminding them that sexual harassment and assault is a civil rights issue covered by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, Poore said.

“Bringing the strength of Title IX to the table has been an important tool to help campuses reprioritize the issue of addressing sexual violence,” Poore said. “In the last couple of years, we’ve seen a shift in the nation’s willingness to really work on this issue.”

Love’s case also gave momentum to the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination, or SaVE, Act, said Lucchesi at Security on Campus. The measure, introduced in Congress last year, would expand federal laws covering the prevention and reporting of sexual assault on campus to include other forms of violence.

The law would require colleges to count domestic violence and stalking in their annual statistics, Lucchesi said.

Local Police

Even when schools introduce prevention measures, they don’t always deter crimes. Yale University installed a network of emergency phones, improved lighting and beefed up security on its campus after the 1991 murder of student Christian Prince. The changes didn’t prevent the 2009 murder of graduate student Annie Le in a campus laboratory by Raymond Clark, a lab employee.

While Virginia is taking steps to mandate coordination between campus and community police, nationally, there is no requirement for local law enforcement officers to notify colleges if their students are arrested, nearby or far from campuses.

It isn’t practical to assume that police officers would discuss someone’s college status, unless they saw a college identification card in a student’s wallet, said Paul V. Verrecchia, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and assistant vice president and chief of police at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

“It’s a challenge, unless you’re dealing specifically with college students on a regular basis,” Verrecchia said. “Local law enforcement is not going to even think to ask the question.”

Off-Campus Arrest

University of Virginia officials said in 2010 that they didn’t know of Huguely’s 2008 off-campus arrest for public intoxication during which he was subdued with a Taser. A hearing to schedule his sentencing for the Love murder is set for April 16.

Verrecchia said the towns where colleges are located often have agreements with their local police officials. He said he hoped the Love murder would make local police generally “more sensitive to notifying colleges and universities” of arrests of people who are college age.

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