On Oct. 17, 2009 grief poured over Virginia when Morgan Harrington was abducted from a concert in Charlottesville. She was a twenty-year-old Virginia Tech student from Roanoke, Virginia. Her remains were discovered three months later on a farm only six miles away from the concert venue.
It wasn’t until much investigation and six years later on Sept. 15, 2015 that Jesse Matthew was charged with abduction with intent to defile and first-degree murder. A year prior to his charges, there was a connection between Matthew and another young college student who was abducted and murdered, Hannah Graham.
Hannah Graham was an eighteen-year-old University of Virginia student who went missing on Sept. 13, 2014. Similar to Harrington’s case, her remains were discovered five weeks later on a property in Albemarle County.
On March 2, 2016, Matthew finally pled guilty to both the abductions and murders of Harrington and Graham. He was given four consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole. His sentencing was a positive outcome for all the negativity surrounding the uncertainty of Morgan and Hannah’s cases.
It’s no secret that going out is a ritual in college; some might even call it a rite of passage. However, in today’s society, unfortunately, being alone at any time during the day can be dangerous. It’s sad that attending college carries so much responsibility when in comes to personal safety because the world can be such a frightful place.
One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college according to National Sexual Violence Resource Center and shockingly, more than 90 percent of those sexual assault victims don’t report the assault. In most situations, the attacker may seem friendly and nonthreatening to begin with, and often times the victim knows the attacker. According to Campus Safety and Security under the U.S. Department of Education, there were 5,559 reported cases of stalking across colleges and universities, public and private, in a two-year period. There were 3,202 reported cases of domestic violence on campuses in the same two-year time span. The statistics are daunting.
Unfortunately, college girls are abducted and sexually assaulted frequently all over the country, but what is being done about it? There isn’t very much education across campuses about staying safe on campus or around town when you are out with your friends. The only thing I can ever remember hearing was, “Travel in pairs.” That advice only goes so far and there is so much more to staying safe and helping your friends stay safe.
Morgan Harrington’s parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, must have felt the lack of education on this matter when they founded Help Save the Next Girl, which began as a source of information and a channel to encourage personal safety. Ultimately, however, it was Morgan’s abduction and murder that made them feel they needed to create an organization for others. In addition to creating the non-profit organization, Dan and Gil have put effort into specific pieces of legislation, eleven in total, to ease the process of seeking help for victims and their families.
Help Save the Next Girl has a large number of chapters across the nation, ranging from colleges to middle schools. Each chapter aims to educate young adults and their parents on the importance of staying vigilant at all times. They strive to provide enlightenment on how quickly a situation can become dangerous and how to trust your intuition. The organization sets up booths at functions, hands out stickers, pins, sports flashy shirts and banners all to catch attention and send their reminder.
Local law enforcement is one of the biggest supporters of Help Save the Next Girl. Along with spreading information about it, law enforcement agencies help raise money for the organization. Radford City Police Department was granted $5,000 to help spread awareness around southwest Virginia by winning a video contest with Aftermath. The grant allowed advocates to come to schools, universities and community events to bring down the sexual assault in the area. They are not alone in this. Sometimes, an act as simple as sharing notices of missing persons on social media or passing along an infographic or sharing a college safety guide can make a difference.
In addition, the organization has participated in numerous Take Back the Night rallies across Virginia. Take Back the Night is a worldwide protest against sexual assault and violence toward women in particular, and it is the first of it’s kind. It later became a foundation with the intention of providing not only a center for information about their rallies but also resources and support for survivors. Similarly, they work to end sexual assault, support survivors through their healing process and provide free legal assistance to victims with questions about their legal options.
On the Help Save the Next Girl webpage, there are various resources that anyone can access at any time, including fifty safety tips compiled by the members, outreach for victim’s families, access to presentations materials for anyone looking to spread advocacy and a list of their partners who are willing to offer help as well. Because they are a non-profit organization, they also accept donations to help with the cost of materials and the programs they provide; they have zero employees so all of their donations go right back into the programs.
Help Save the Next Girl is trying to reach the community any way they can through a number of means. The message is simple: help save the next girl.
How can you ensure you contribute to the prevention of more abductions and sexual violence? Ensuring that your friends don’t go anywhere alone or with anyone they don’t know is the perfect way to help. It can be annoying to constantly hear, “Stick together,” but it couldn’t be truer. Predators pounce on the vulnerable girl walking by herself so make sure that isn’t you or one of your friends. It can really be that easy.
However, educating yourself on the current issues surrounding you can be the first step to the bigger picture. There are missing person’s pages for most states as well as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is a national compilation on this issue. Simply sharing pictures can make a difference; you may also join Help Save the Next Girl on social media to assist with more challenging tasks. The organization shares missing person’s photographs on Twitter as well as other public service announcements.
Spread awareness whenever and wherever you can. “Whatever it takes. Help save the next girl. For as long as it takes.”