University of Virginia Lacrosse Murder Trial Highlights College Drinking, Gender Issues, and Families

Guest Blogger David Vitto, Regent Juris Doctor Candidate 2013, B.A. University of Virginia 2005, Masters in Education University of Virginia 2007, and current blogger at http://www.regentdavid.blogspot.com:

On Feb. 22, jurors in Charlottesville, Virginia recommended a 26 year sentence to George Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player found guilty of second degree murder and grand larceny in the death of ex-girlfriend and women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love. In May 2010, a drunken Huguely entered Love's apartment and maliciously attacked her, banging her head against a wall and leaving her after stealing her laptop computer. Love died of her injuries a short time later and was found by her roommate. A timeline of events in the trial can be found here: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/02/23/the-murder-of-yeardley-love-and-trial-of-george-huguely-v-a-timeline/ (courtesy of Time online). The trial brought up numerous issues of the college drinking culture, most telling in the fact that Huguely had been arrested for assaulting a female police officer a few years prior to Love's murder. The assault of the police officer went unreported to University of Virginia officials as well as the lacrosse team. Information of that nature is normally not reported unless the student self-reports himself, something that Huguely did not do.

College drinking is not a new issue. It has been around for many years and continues to be an issue of high priority for colleges. High rates of drinking normally include high rates of violence. In 2009, 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 were assaulted by another student who had been drinking. (courtesy of http://www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/statssummaries/snapshot.aspx). As staggering as that number is, the real number may be even larger because many issues of violence that occur due to drinking go unreported.

With the drinking age at 21, it is imperative that parents and families discuss the issue of alcohol before their children leave to go to college. Education is an absolute necessity because many college students will have their first drink while they are away at college and not be fully aware of the consequences and repercussions of drinking. The day of Love's murder, George Huguely apparently consumed over 20 alcoholic drinks. He began drinking at a father-son golf tournament early in the morning and continued to drink over the course of the day. Huguely continued to drink even after getting into a fight with his father over how many drinks he had consumed that day. This is not to blame Huguely's parents for the events surrounding Love's death; it is merely an observation that parents must take an affirmative stance in discussing alcohol and its dangers with their children before their children develop any problems with alcohol. According to some of Huguely's teammates, an intervention was being planned for Huguely at the end of the lacrosse season. Huguely's drinking had become destructive to his life, something he himself acknowledged in a letter he wrote to Love apologizing for his behavior in their relationship. That letter was written because Huguely had put Love in a choke hold at a lacrosse party which was broken up by another trial witness. This incident was not reported to any authorities, as Huguely apologized and swore to never harm Love again.

A secondary issue in this case revolves around the issue of gender. Since the integration of male and female students in collegiate communities, unique issues surrounding the interaction between the two genders living in community have developed. Females in collegiate communities are generally more vulnerable than their male counterparts, especially when it comes to relationship or domestic violence. Many times, female students do not have a support system around themselves to protect against aggression from a boyfriend or an ex-boyfriend, and in the world of university life, isolated incidents of abuse can occur that signify a very real, and significant problem. When these isolated incidents go unreported, a cycle of abuse begins that can result in more and more harm and abuse. Collegiate females are sometimes more prone to this cycle of abuse because many relationships in college are of the on-again, off-again nature. If an episode of abuse occurs, but no action is taken, it may be that the victim will simply stop seeing that boyfriend minimally to get away from him and exit an abusive relationship. The "hook-up" culture that exists in colleges today can allow abusers to remain undetected because they do not remain with one girl for a long period of time.

The "hook-up" culture exists in all colleges and universities because young people are in a fresh environment where they wish to have fun, meet people, and experience a variety or relationships. What is required of parents and collegiate officials is education on advice for women and men to implement at the first sign of any abuse or aggressive nature.

Parents need to speak to their children and have an open and honest conversation about the potential dangers of dating and ways to be self-protective. Also, any time an incident of violence is brought to parents, they must contact the police and the university involved so that actions can be taken to prevent any future violence.

Universities can offer education and assistance to avoid relational violence, but families make a tremendous difference in averting violence of all kinds in social relationships. Violence and substance abuse are harmful in an individual context, but mixing the two in any relationship will never end well for anyone without intervention.


  1. Thank you for this informative post. While I do think that there is a culture of drinking and inappropriate behavior at colleges and that families do have some influence, college kids are old enough and mature enough to make their own decisions.

    I do think that the values and morals that parents instill in thier children help to mold and and influence the decisions that the children make later, there comes a point that children make thier own choices. According to the blog, the father disapproved of how much the son was drinking because he commented on the amount and the two even got into an argument over it. Even though the son knew that his father thought his drinking was out of control, the son still continued to drink anyway.

    In short, although parents do play a huge role in molding children while growing up, there comes a point where the parents are not able to control children and children make thier own choices and should be solely responsible for those decisions.

  2. There can be no doubt that this man’s actions were heinous and unwarranted. However, equally disturbing was the ex-girlfriend's self-victimization by failing to put the authorities on proper notice following the first act of physical abuse, a problem no less deserving of society’s attention. Obviously, the self-destructive issues faced by George were the product of his own poor choices, conduct that was only reinforced by (what appears to have been) over-indulgence and lax parenting, (an observation that is itself reinforced by the fact that George’s father failed to contact the police, or seek intervention of any kind, following the fight that ensued in the wake of George’s ongoing drinking the day of the murder). Thus, it is cavalier and cursory to suggest that the victim “only had herself to blame” given her “inaction”. Even if she had done everything in her power to protect and distance herself from George, there is no way to know for sure whether such action would have proven sufficient to prevent the events that occurred in 2010. Nevertheless, the unwillingness, and perhaps the inability, to report physical abuse that occurs within the context of domestic (or merely romantic) relationships appears to be an ongoing social problem of epidemic proportions. Society must strive to be just as vigilant in encouraging the voluntary self-reporting of physical abuse by victims as it seeks to be in encouraging intervention for the instigators of such abuse. Likewise, in accordance with the family-based mode of intervention advocated by this post, families should seek to inculcate values and practices that will encourage girls and young women to report, without exception, incidents of physical abuse and victimization when they occur.

  3. Great post, David. I agree with Margo and Paul that George is responsible for his actions. Parents are the most influential figures in determining the attitudes and actions of their children when it comes to alcohol, drugs, and sex. In a 2009 survey by CASA at Columbia, more than 1/3 of teens surveyed witnessed one or both parents drunk, and of the 17 year olds surveyed about 1/2 had witnessed one or both parents drunk. Teenagers who have witnessed their parents drunk are twice as likely to get drunk in a typical month. The statistics evolve into the likelihood of teens engaging in the use of other drugs, and sexual activity. Then the children go to college where they will often be "on their own" for the first time, and as most people are well aware colleges do not foster the concept of self-restraint, and alcohol, drugs, and sex are readily available. In essence, I firmly support the position that parents need to talk to their chilren, but hypocrisy is obvious to children. Parents must be willing to demonstrate their attitudes by action and exercise greater self-restraint in their own lives. The "hook-up" culture is abusive in and of itself, people are abusing their bodies, but are completely disconnected from such implications. All the things of value in a sexual relationship are lost when it becomes a casual exercise, a collection of who you've been with, or just another piece... it's just not special, anyone can have "it." For women especially, that can strongly impact an overall sense of self-worth because there can still exist a sense of shame. And when faced with an abusive relationship it can create ridiculous notions that "they deserved it." If they report a violent incident with someone they "hooked-up" with they might have to face embarrassment and accountability for the choices they made. The case at hand did not seem to be a hook-up situation, but still one of saving face. Colleges and Universities go to great lengths to protect their most sacred institutions - sports. Athletes know what will bring embarrassment and shame on their programs that might lead to school or NCAA sanctions or otherwise bad press. And of course, you must never jeopardize the team (if George's behvior was not negatively impacting the team's ability to win, it could wait until the end of the season). This case is a sad story with many lessons.