Last week, the murder trial of George Huguely, the UVA lacrosse player accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, fellow UVA student (and Baltimore native) Yeardley Love, began with jury selection. (Huguely is pleading not-guilty, and his lawyers blame Love’s death on her [prescribed] Adderall use.) While the trial is sure to bring up all sorts of disturbing evidence, there is some room for hope as well. One of Love’s legacies will be increased rights for victims of domestic violence in Virginia courts, as well as policy changes at UVA and other schools.
In the wake of Love’s death in 2010, the Virginia legislature passed a new law that changed how the state handles restraining orders. Before, the state had no provision allowing people to get protective orders against people they were dating. Instead, the law was limited to family or household members — in other words, Love would’ve had a tough time getting a restraining order against Huguely if she’d tried. That’s one reason advocates for victims of domestic violence deemed the old law one of the least progressive in the nation.
Love’s death put the media spotlight on Virginia’s approach to dealing with domestic violence. Which is perhaps why when the state’s lawmakers re-wrote the law, they took the opposite tack, going from one of the nation’s least progressive provisions to one of its most lenient. Now, instead of focusing on the relationship between the parties in question, the focus is on abusive or threatening behavior — no matter the relationship. “It’s sort of opened the floodgates,” General District Court Clerk Nancy Lake told the Washington Post. The court in Fairfax got so many requests for restraining orders — three times as many in 2011 than in 2010 — that it had to dedicate a clerk to processing all the paperwork.
In allowing dating violence as a motivation for getting a restraining order, the new law has also enabled people in different kinds of relationships — landlord/tenant, roommates, co-workers — to take advantage of the law as well. There is some worry that the newly lenient law will encourage abuse of the system — as in the Richmond case where someone tried to file a protective order against a neighbor who’d put a dead fish in front of her door. But dealing with a small minority of frivolous cases seems like a small price to pay for a law that does justice to Love — and to all those who’ve struggled with abusive relationships.