Almost every day, I pass by a dead girl.
Morgan Harrington’s smiling face stares right at me whenever I drive, walk or run by it. Her memorial, on a bridge less than a quarter mile from my house, is a daily reminder that bad things can happen to women like me.
Morgan Harrington was a Virginia Tech student who disappeared at the beginning of last school year after a Metallica concert on UVA’s campus. Her body was found three months later on a farm outside Charlottesville. Her killer hasn’t been.
But she was last seen on that bridge near my house, and so that’s where her memorial sprung up. It started out with Tibetan prayer flags, candles, flowers, pictures of her smiling face and posters pleading for help bringing Morgan home. Since her body was discovered, the posters now as for help in finding her killer.
We’d like to think Morgan’s story is an extreme outlier, especially in a small town like Charlottesville. But our cozy community was rocked in the spring by the death of UVA fourth-year Yeardley Love, who police believe was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend George Huguely. And this week UVA administrators warned students that it appears there is a man lurking around campus who has attacked two women in the last month.
This gives me chills, as it would any woman who thinks about it too closely. Women try to forget about things like this – things like the fact that 1 in 3 women have been abused at some point in their lifetime and 1 in 6 have been the victims of rape. (Department of Health stats)
But you remember them when you’re walking alone on a dark street and hear footsteps behind you. Or when you meet another woman and get that feeling that something isn’t right – maybe it’s the long sleeves in July.
Right then, if you’re a woman, you shiver. And as soon as you can, you forget again.
That’s part of the problem. I don’t think women should live in fear, seeing boogey men around every dark corner, but when we forget entirely, we put each other at risk. Morgan separated herself from her friends at the Metallica concert. Reports suggest Yeardley’s friends knew her ex often got out of line. And one of the two girls who was recently assaulted near campus was walking home alone after midnight.
Why don’t we take better care of each other? Because stepping up makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like to think violence happens to women we know and we definitely don’t like to think it can happen to us. That is why the stories of Morgan and Yeardley hit close to home. They are women like us.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a good time to start paying attention to each other. It can stop violence. One example? That creepy guy who’s still lurking around UVA’s campus tried to assault another girl in a frat house pantry this month. Her friends were nearby, heard her screams and ran to help.
Proof that looking out for each other can make all the difference.