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The following is a conversation between Katie Hood, Chief Executive Officer of the One Love Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.
Denver: Earlier this month– May 3 to be exact– marks seven years since Yeardley Love, a lacrosse player at the University of Virginia was found beaten to death in her room, just three weeks shy of her graduation. Her tragic death shined a spotlight on relationship violence like we have never seen before. And through the tireless work of her mother, sister, and many others, the One Love Foundation came into being. And here to discuss the work of the foundation with us tonight is their Chief Executive Officer, Katie Hood. Good evening, Katie, and welcome to The Business of Giving!
Katie: Hi! Thanks for having me.
Denver: You know, I just touched on it in the opening, but tell our listeners about Yeardley Love and the tragic circumstances around her death.
Katie: Yeardley was a young woman who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and attended the University of Virginia for college. I did not know her personally. Her cousin happens to be one of my best friends, so I feel like I knew her. She was a totally can-do spirit, dedicated to her family and friends, really determined to play lacrosse in college. And even more than that, her mom says she was, “completely dedicated to UVA.” She accomplished her goals, was admitted to UVA, was a member of the women’s lacrosse team there and loved UVA. Had great friends; one of the strongest girls, nicest girls, kindest girls you’ll ever meet. But unfortunately, no one really knew how unhealthy and dangerous her relationship with a fellow student, a guy on the men’s lacrosse team, had become.
And so her death on May 3 came as a total surprise to so many people who really just hadn’t understood the signs that she was in an unhealthy relationship. They therefore didn’t know how to help. So what we exist to do today is: we believe that Yeardley’s death was 100% avoidable, if anyone in her life– including her– had understood the signs of an unhealthy and dangerous relationship. So One Love exists today to make sure that others have the information that Yeardley didn’t.
Denver: Did the foundation come into being shortly after her death? Or, did it take a while for her mother and sister and others to put it together?
Katie: Well, at the time when she died, I was actually at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and I was one of the only people the family really knew in philanthropy. They were in our offices at the Michael J. Fox Foundation within six weeks to talk about how they could honor Yeardley’s life through a nonprofit. It took them a few years, however, to really get focused on relationship violence. Quite honestly, it took them until 2012– when her killer went to trial–to really realize that this strong, positive, happy person they knew had actually been in an abusive relationship. She defied their expectations of who this happens to. I think we all have stereotypes in our head about who ends up in these relationships; these stereotypes are wrong. And it took them time to really realize how wrong they were.
And so starting in 2012, they really shifted their focus to prevention. The idea was: unless we do something radical to change young people’s understanding of this issue, we’re never going to change the pipeline that leads to one in three women and one in four men being in abusive relationships in their life.
So emotional abuse is when somebody is controlling you. When every step you take, you are anticipating how the other person is going to respond, and you’re trying to avoid a negative response. The sad truth is: it’s incredibly common. And the really sad truth is that nobody really thinks of it as abuse.
Denver: Katie, is there an actual definition of what relationship violence is?
Katie: Yes. So we started using the phrase “relationship violence” instead of domestic violence because we’re really focused on working with young people. Young people hear domestic violence, and they think of people who are married, who are older, who likely have kids. Young people don’t realize it can happen to them. And yet, young women, ages 16 to 24, are at three times greater risk of being in an abusive relationship than any other demographic. So we had an information gap here, and it was an information gap that we wanted to address.
Relationship violence, relationship abuse can consist of three buckets of things. Everybody is familiar with physical violence, and everybody knows that physical violence is wrong. But what we always say is, “You don’t get punched on your first date.” The first date is probably the best date you’ve ever been on in your life. And one of the messages we try to get to young people is that every abusive relationships starts out as the best relationship you’ve ever been in. So physical abuse, we’re clear on. Sexual abuse, we’re clear on. This is a little different from sexual assault, which may happen outside of a dating relationship, but it can also happen inside a relationship… inside a dating relationship.
But the least well-known part of relationship violence, relationship abuse, is emotional. This is the stuff that we call “drama.” It’s the stuff that’s normalized in our society today. It’s controlling behavior. It’s isolating behavior. It’s name-calling. So, emotional abuse is when somebody is controlling you. When every step you take, you are anticipating how the other person’s going to respond, and you’re trying to avoid a negative response. The sad truth is: it’s incredibly common. And the really sad truth is that nobody really thinks of it as abuse. So, a lot of our work actually focuses on this gray zone – this gray zone of the emotional behaviors that are never okay.
Denver: And I would have to think, Katie, that a lot of young people are in one of their very first relationships, so they’re not really sure whether this is normal or not normal because they don’t really have anything to gauge it against.