When 22-year-old Cockeysville native and Notre Dame Preparatory School graduate Yeardley Love was killed by an ex-boyfriend in May 2010—just weeks before graduating from the University of Virginia—a national spotlight was shone on an issue often witnessed but not discussed nearly enough: relationship violence, especially amongst young women.
Now Love’s high school alma mater and an organization created in her honor—the Yeardley Reynolds Love Foundation, more popularly known as the One Love Founda-tion (so named for the number she wore on her high school and college lacrosse jersey)—are on a mission to stop relationship violence before it starts, and to educate bystanders on how to step in and help.
“We take dating violence in a personal way,” says Ginna Alderman, a longtime coun-selor at Notre Dame.
Instead of shying away from the topic, the school is tackling it head-on, with lessons on healthy relationships, self-esteem, communi-cation—and later, in high school, relationship aggression—spanning health, guidance and religion curriculum. A four-hour self-defense workshop is held for all seniors each spring after exams.
Notre Dame also incorporates a One Love workshop for juniors, seniors and parents centered around “Escalation,” a film created by the organization, which traces the rela-tionship between two college students, from beginning to tragic, violent end.
The workshop, which is being held at private and public schools around the state, is led by a One Love facilitator or One Love-trained student facilitator, and focuses on not only relationship violence, but the warning signs of an abusive relationship.
After Love’s death, those who knew her began talking about what they had witnessed between Love and ex-boyfriend George Huguely, now serving 23 years for second-degree murder.
“People were seeing signs but no one knew how to define it,” says Jordyn Cohen, One Love’s educational program coordinator for Maryland. “They were talking about these signs, but they’re things we’re taught to ignore because it’s not our relationship.”
Relationship violence disproportionately affects one in three girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24—three times the national average—making it even more important to educate young people about the dangers of abusive relationships, includ-ing the fact that they typically don’t start out that way.
Oftentimes, when these relationships start, the victim—typically a woman in a relation-ship with a man—“feels she’s never met some-one so thoughtful, caring, and sensitive. Then it suddenly starts to change,” explains Dr. Richard Loewenstein, medical director of the Trauma Disorders Program at Sheppard Pratt.
One partner’s behavior starts to get increasingly controlling and jealous. “He’ll want to know why did she wear that? Where did you go? Who did you talk to?” Loewen-stein says. “It tends to get more serious with time.”
These abusive relationships typically share three characteristics: isolation, fear and punishment, he continues. There isn’t always violence, but the threat of violence—another tool of control.
One of the biggest misconceptions about these types of relationships is that they’re about violence, when, in reality, it’s actually about something Loewenstein and other experts label coercive control.
Another is that it’s just a women’s issue.
“This is not a women’s issue. This is every-one’s issue,” Cohen emphasizes. “It looks so many different ways and affects everyone across the board equally.”
“Men are abused,” she continues. “And there are a lot of reasons that they feel they can’t reach out.”
Male or female, these relationships—which also affect those in same-sex relation-ships—are incredibly hard for victims to get out of, just as it can be difficult to get out of healthy relationships that aren’t working. That’s why it’s essential for friends and fam-ily to have the knowledge to identify abusive relationships, and the know-how to step in and direct victims to resources that can help.
“In general, what we tell students is trust your gut. If you feel in your gut that some-thing is off, don’t suppress it,” Cohen says. It’s also important not to make excuses for an abuser’s behavior, such as he or she’s only abusive when drinking.
Hudson Waters, a recent Gilman graduate and student “Escalation” workshop peer facilitator, was shocked when he learned about how prevalent relationship abuse and violence is amongst his peers. He was equally stunned when he saw the film.
“I think it’s a good idea to talk about this while people are young,” he says.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction to start early with these talks.”
Between ongoing “Escalation” workshops and Notre Dame’s extensive curriculum-span-ning education initiative, Alderman and her colleagues have made it their goal to never lose another student to relationship violence again.
“When you leave our school, you’ll know all the warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, and how to intervene” if a friend or loved one is in an abusive relationship. “Because we can’t let [what happened to Love] happen again. It hurt us so deeply that it became a mission.”
Cohen and the rest of the One Love Foundation share that under-taking. “Our over-all mission is to educate, empower and activate young people in a move-ment to end rela-tionship abuse,” Cohen says. “We don’t want this to be one and done. We want this to be an ongoing conversation.”
To learn the warning signs of an abusive relationship, or to bring the One Love Escalation workshop to the school of a loved one, visit www.joinonelove.org.