Murdered student's mother aims to promote safety
Gil Harrington’s pledge card campaign works to inform women about community dangers
Nearly three years after the murder of college student Morgan Harrington, her family is reaching out to young women through a pledge card campaign that aims to remind women about community dangers.
The 20-year-old Virginia Tech student went missing in October 2009 after leaving a concert at John Paul Jones Arena. Her remains were found in January 2010 on an Albemarle County farm about eight miles from the bridge where she was last seen. The identity of her killer remains unknown.
“It seems to us like it just happened yesterday,” Morgan’s mother Gil Harrington said. “But there are three years of students who don’t know the story.”
Harrington said it is important to educate students about looking out for themselves and each other as the University’s fall semester begins.
Gil Harrington launched the pledge card campaign at the start of the academic year, distributing cards around Virginia Tech during the school’s fall orientation and around Charlottesville. The campaign has individuals pledge to look out for friends and to always carry a cell phone. She said the cards campaign would be brought to the University by Oct. 17 — the three-year anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance.
Claire Kaplan, director of Sexual and Domestic Violence Services at the University’s Women’s Center, said she hopes the initiative will also lead to longer-term plans.
“I think that pledge cards are a great idea, but in terms of long-term effectiveness, [the Center] tries to focus on long-term prevention so that people have skills to prevent something from happening — to be aware to avoid [dangerous] situations,” said Kaplan.
Last October the Harrington family launched “Help Save the Next Girl,” a campaign seeking to prevent the abduction of young women by educating women about community vigilance and heightening of awareness about sexual predators. The campaign provides links to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a nonprofit that assists children reported missing and children who suffer abuse, the Harrington family blog and a copy of the campaign pledge.
Although Harrington said pledge cards will likely not solve all community predator issues, the goal is to convey a cautionary message to the widest possible group of students so that many will decrease their risk by avoiding dangerous behaviors.
“A pledge card does not ensure compliance, but if someone takes these promises to heart, down the line you hope that they’ll actually perform these behaviors,” Harrington said.
University students are already gearing up to sign the pledge.
Third-year College student Ashley Shah said she believes in the importance of a safe community, expressing enthusiasm about participating in the pledge. After being made aware of potential dangers in Charlottesville following the murder, she said she saw the importance of promoting awareness and safety at the University.
“I would [sign] just because I know it’s a reality,” Shah said. “Things like [the Harrington murder] do happen. I would feel irresponsible and ignorant if I went around acting like it’s not a big deal.”
There are still some reservations among students who said that the pledge might not alleviate all dangers, but they said the campaign will likely make students more aware. “I don’t think that everyone will, after they sign it, be safe, but it will have some influence on people,” fourth-year College student Rui Liu said.