Read an Excerpt
daughters in danger
helping our girls thrive in today's culture
By ELAYNE BENNETT
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Elayne Bennett
All rights reserved.
Life in the Fast Lane
On Saturday, May 3, 2010, having made many wrong turns, I got lost in the morass of Washington, DC's one-way streets, finally arriving breathless at a public school. This was an important day, as I knew John Arnold, a talented producer working pro bono, would be waiting for me. We were to make a video that would highlight the benefits of the Best Friends program I had founded a quarter century ago.
On this day I was to teach a class to our teenage leadership group on dating-violence prevention. I was anxious that we get the very best shots so we could send the right message. As the videographer adjusted the lighting and the backdrop, I began to position students and ask questions.
It was a lively session that made me aware just how real the problem of dating violence is for inner-city students. When the students began to name names, it became clear that they were not talking theoretically, but in fact were speaking about couples in their school who were locked in abusive relationships.
The next morning, Sunday, I got a literal wake-up call from my son. What he told me made me realize as I never had before that the problem I had addressed on Saturday was not just an inner-city problem. It was a national problem. Local lacrosse star George Huguely had just been arrested for the suspected killing of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love. Later in the day, as the details started tumbling out from all sides, I had to ask myself the same questions I had asked the teenagers the day before: What did anyone do to try to stop this? What did the victim's friends and family know? Why did this lovely young woman have to die? Why did this young man, whose family is a productive part of our community, fail to receive the clinical help he so desperately needed?
The more I read in the popular press, the less I felt I knew. The reading I had done over the years in adolescent psychology also failed to help me find my way to an answer. What I began to see is that no matter how insightful these articles and books were, several of which I will cite in this work, almost all of them accept our culture as a given and ask girls, their parents, and their schools to accommodate themselves to it as best they can.
By "culture" I mean those large external forces—the media, ethos, trends, customs, habits, and history—that shape all of us, some of us more than others. As most authorities in adolescent behavior will concede, this culture has grown more dangerous for our daughters over the years. As I will explain in detail in the coming chapters, girls today are more at risk, from increasingly diverse threats, than their parents or their grandparents were.
Rather than merely ask our daughters and their parents to accept the prevailing culture as it is and adapt to it, I set out to discover what realistic steps we could take collectively to stand up to our culture. What follows is a description of the problems we face and a series of recommendations for how we can address them—on a personal level, a policy level, and even on a protest level. Our daughters are surely worth the fight.
Yeardley Love was by all accounts a lovely young woman who did not in any way deserve the cruel fate she suffered. But like so many young women, she inhabited an uncertain world—one that undermines girls and damages their souls, and that long ago, in many quarters at least, sacrificed common sense and decency for ideologically driven cultural "change."
Girls today face a dynamic range of threats, some of them physical and many more emotional and spiritual. In our oversexualized culture, our girls are set adrift in a sea of conflicting messages about their worth, their needs and desires, and their present and future. Despite a wealth of new laws and artificial protections, girls are suffering from anxiety, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders, bullying, sexual harassment, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual pressure, dating violence, and a host of other stressors that have caught their parents unaware. For political reasons, school authorities may refuse to even acknowledge some of the risks our girls are running. In Yeardley's case, no one seemed to recognize the risk at all.
The same culture that is victimizing girls has transformed some of our sons from our daughters' protectors to our daughters' predators. A radically feminized educational establishment, a welfare system that punishes responsible fatherhood, and an ongoing sexual revolution that encourages the most primal of male behavior have possibly put our sons at even more long-term risk than our daughters. If radical feminists choose to fault our sons for their very maleness, I would choose to fault these progressive feminists for their very blindness. As shall be seen, these women and their male enablers are part of the problem, not the solution.
* * *
On the night of October 17, 2009, Morgan Harrington seemed blithely unaware of any risk as she attended a Metallica concert with her friends at an arena on campus of the University of Virginia. For the record, Metallica is one of the "Big Four" of thrash metal bands, along with the aptly named Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer.
When Morgan stepped outside, she was barred from reentry, as is the policy at most such concerts. Alone, vulnerable, and away from home, Morgan disappeared into the night. Her bones were discovered three months later in a rural area ten miles from campus. The killer remains at large. The female students quickly rationalized why what happened to Morgan, a Virginia Tech student, could not happen to them and went back about their business.
The students should have paid more attention. Unfortunately, there exists a false sense of security in America's schools and colleges. The horrible crimes are the ones that get attention. But every day, a hundred times a day, young women are being bullied, abused, and humiliated in ways unique to our time and place. Through my own experience with the Best Friends Foundation, I have gained insight into how we can reverse this trend, but to do so we must first acknowledge what the trend is.
Yeardley Love's great passion was the challenging, fast-paced game of lacrosse. With an all-American uncle and encouraging father, Yeardley began playing at the age of five. When her deeply loved father died, the heartbroken fifteen-year-old placed a lacrosse ball in his casket.
As a player, Yeardley compensated for her lack of size with an excess of spunk and dedication, virtues recognized by the coaches at the University of Virginia who recruited her to play there. She prophetically described her recruitment as "the happiest and proudest moment that I will probably ever experience."
For all of her athletic skills, however, Yeardley was not a super-woman—nothing like it. She weighed little more than half as much as the man whose violence may have led to her death, George Wesley Huguely V. She was nearly a foot shorter, but she was much more vulnerable in another way that would ultimately spell her demise; that is, the lesser resilience of her head. Comparing the male skull and brain to the female's, says clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Joseph Bleiberg, is "like comparing an SUV and a VW bug. The same level of impact is not going to cause the same level of damage."
Yet, like coeds on just about all American campuses—presumed sanctuaries with no need of fathers, brothers, or other male protectors—she was somehow thought to be physically equal to men. "Yeardley was nothing if not strong," wrote Amber Hunt in her thoughtful book on the subject, All-American Murder. Left to her own devices, however, Yeardley was not nearly strong enough.
Emilie Surrusco, who grew up much as Love did and almost died in the same way, observed knowingly in a Washington Post editorial,
As young girls, we were told we could own the world. What we never learned was what to do if, after we'd done everything right, the ability to control our own future was slowly, surely and deliberately taken away.
At the time of this editorial, Yeardley Love's future had already been taken away.
On the surface, Huguely had as much going for him as Love did. He, too, came from a wealthy family. His father was a real estate entrepreneur; his mother, a former model. He was a star quarterback at his prep school and a star lacrosse player. Like Love, he was good-looking, well liked, and a good student. In fact, he majored in anthropology, which is a challenging course of study. Hunt described what her fellow scribes learned in researching his background, "The most they uncovered was an idyllic childhood marred slightly by divorce."
Huguely's parents divorced when he was in the fifth grade. For Hunt and others in the media, that was an incidental detail. But perhaps not. It appears that even though they were close, Huguely and his father had a great deal of tension.
In one telling incident in Florida, a little more than a year before Love's murder, Huguely and his father got into a shouting match aboard the family boat. The police would later report "lots of yelling and screaming" but no physical violence. Huguely wanted to return to the beach. His father did not. When Huguely jumped overboard, two miles from shore, to swim back his father alerted the authorities.
On the morning of Yeardley's death, Huguely and his father played golf together. Reportedly, once again, all did not go well between them. They argued passionately and were asked to leave the golf course. Huguely was likely drunk before he left the golf course.
Like too many young men his age, Huguely was growing up in a milieu much coarser and more violent than even our nation's seemingly jaded baby boomer parents might suspect. For males his age, many of whom have given up reading books altogether, the only book some have read of their own volition is University of Chicago and Duke Law School grad Tucker Max's nihilistic mega–best seller, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. This book is worth reading for those who worry about the future. In it, Max writes about his youthful, drunken sexual orgies in mind-numbing detail.
As cruel and perverse as Max may have been—he professes now to have changed his ways (we shall see)—he serves as a highly observant guide to a side of the culture that girls on many college campuses have had to confront on a daily basis. Wrote Max after humiliating one of his sexual conquests, "I was only like 23 when it happened: what did you expect from me? Compassion? Caring?" With good reason, female students have protested his campus appearances, claiming that his writing "promote[s] a culture of rape."
Like Max, who boasts of an encounter with a Charlottesville policeman near the UVA campus, Huguely had at least one drunken confrontation with the police. A year before Love's murder, Huguely got aggressive with a female police officer in Lexington, Virginia. There, he resisted arrest for public intoxication and had to be tasered into submission. "He was by far the most rude, most hateful, and most combative college kid I ever dealt with," the officer would tell reporters after Love's murder. But word of his arrest for public drunkenness and resisting arrest never got back to the authorities at the University of Virginia. And in Tucker Max's universe, this incident would have been a big joke.
A few months later, Huguely punched a sleeping teammate to the point of concussion after seeing him with Love. A year later, at a party, Huguely pulled Love on top of him on a bed at a party and put her in a chokehold. A lacrosse player from another university heard her cry for help and intervened.
Love returned to her apartment shaken and scared. Her roommate, Caitlin Whiteley, had never seen her so disturbed. "She was hysterical," Whiteley would later testify. "She was crying and physically shaking and upset." When Whiteley later confronted Huguely, he expressed his anger that Love had told her roommates. Sadly, neither Whitely nor Love's other roommates ever discussed this attack with their coach or a counselor or sought help for Love or Huguely. One wonders if they were afraid of repercussions for their teams, or perhaps for themselves. They could not see where all this could possibly lead.
Although the campus hookup culture discourages lasting attachments and encourages equal sexual freedom for men and women, human nature rebels against the artificiality of it all. Huguely was no more capable than Othello of controlling his jealousy. Similarly, Love, like almost all young women, was instinctively possessive. As William Congreve reminded us more than three centuries ago, "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."
Not much has changed in the centuries since. After the choking incident, when Love learned that Huguely had been seeing another woman, she stormed over to his apartment and protested vigorously, hitting him with her purse. She reportedly had been drinking beforehand.
Alexandra Petri, writing for the Washington Post, accurately described the college campus as a "no-man's land in which everyone wants to have fun without consequence. Where people are just mature enough to act immaturely." This time, however, the "fun" had consequences.
Days before the murder, Huguely learned that Love was seeing a lacrosse player from another university and e-mailed her, "I should have killed you." Social media, including texting and e-mails in Huguely's case, allowed him to go cyber with his stalking. What some call "textual harassment" is now, according to dating violence authority Jill Murray, "part and parcel of every abusive dating relationship." This harassment goes unreported and unaddressed, as "sexting" and texting are a major part of social communication among young people today.
* * *
In the early morning hours of Monday, May 3, a drunken and despondent Huguely entered Love's apartment uninvited. Her roommate had left the front door unlocked, as is a common practice in off campus housing today. An angry Love told him to leave, walked into her bedroom, and locked the door. Enraged, Huguely punched a hole in the door, reached in, and unlocked it. According to Huguely's testimony, videotaped by the police immediately after the incident, Yeardley hit her own head against the wall as she pleaded with him to go away. But he also admitted to shaking her "a little" and grabbing her neck before they "wrestled to the ground." Then, after tossing her back on the bed, he left her bleeding and, in his own words, "flopping like a fish out of water."
As he left the apartment, Huguely had enough wits about him to take Love's laptop, but not enough to understand the consequences of his actions. He went back to his place, texted another girl to meet him, drank some more, and went to bed.
When Whiteley and a male friend returned to the apartment sometime later, they found Yeardley unresponsive. This being a university coed in 2010, they naturally assumed she had suffered an alcohol overdose, and shared that assumption with a 911 dispatcher. In fact, Yeardley was drunk at the time of her death. She had been drinking all day. Her blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit for driving. She also took Adderall, a drug legally prescribed for her ADHD. Adderall is often abused by young people in concert with alcohol, and in the trial to come, Huguely's attorneys would attempt to link Love's death to the drug. However, there was no evidence that Yeardley had taken more than her daily dose.
The 911 dispatcher told Whiteley's friend to pull Yeardley off the bed and administer CPR. He later testified that when he tried, he heard a crack that he thought came from Love's back, though it could have been her neck. He then laid her on the floor but could not understand how to give her CPR because he was intoxicated from a long night of drinking.
* * *
According to the University of Virginia substance abuse prevention center, 71 percent of UVA students drink on a typical Saturday night, with 20 percent consuming more than six standard drinks—a phenomenon not at all unique to UVA. And worse, wrote Petri, "colleges around the country are playing the part of those parents who host drinking parties. 'Better here,' they tell themselves, watching another car pull onto the lawn. 'Better here where we can see them.'"
University officials long ago abandoned any genuine "in loco parentis" policies, due in part to liability concerns. Get drunk, as Huguely did on a pathological basis, get arrested for public intoxication, resist arrest, abuse a girlfriend, slug teammates, shout obscenities, and no one notices or intervenes. Huguely's lacrosse coaches, for sure, did not notice or were not told.
Among the more lackluster responses by the academic community to the cultural disintegration within their domain is a document known as the "Amethyst Initiative." According to the Initiative's website, the name amethyst was selected because the gem "was thought to be an antidote to the negative effects of intoxication." Thus it seemed an appropriate symbol for a program that "aims to encourage moderation and responsibility as an alternative to the drunkenness and reckless decisions about alcohol that mark the experience of many young Americans."
Excerpted from daughters in danger by ELAYNE BENNETT. Copyright © 2013 Elayne Bennett. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.