An incumbent Arlington school board member running for reelection apologized Wednesday night for comments he made earlier in the day about domestic violence, after coming under fire for victim-blaming.
James Lander, running for his third term on the board, expressed regret on social media for saying on a local radio station Wednesday morning that if Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia student murdered in 2010 by her boyfriend, “wasn’t strong enough or educated enough to remove herself from a violent relationship then we have failed her as a society. Because if you are the smartest person with books, but you can’t apply the knowledge, then what good is it?”
Twelve hours later, Lander called his words “insensitive and inappropriate and do not reflect the realities faced by victims of domestic violence. . . . I know that Ms. Love was not the victim of poor choices or personal failings; she was the victim of a horrendous crime and her murderer is solely to blame.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lander called his statement “boneheaded and stupid.”
Lander said he was trying to point out that “it is of paramount importance to provide our students with all the tools they need for life outside the classroom. . . . But I said something stupid.”
He promised to work with local domestic-violence-prevention groups to become better educated on the issue and “ensure that the school system focuses appropriate attention on providing all of our young men and women with the tools they need to develop healthy relationships and be vigilant about their mental health.”
Lander came under quick criticism from the chairwoman of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women, Caroline Gary Romano, who called for his apology and resignation.
On Thursday morning, Romano said that even though he apologized, Lander should resign.
“The bottom line for me was what he did was victim-blaming,” she said in an interview. “It was as if to say there’s anything ever a victim can do to stop a perpetrator.”
Lander, a former school board chairman, also lost the endorsement of Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol. He is running against fellow Democrats Monique O’Grady and Maura McMahon in the May 9, 11 and 13 party caucus.
Cristol said she knows Lander to be “very open to dialogue and growth,” but “when it comes to domestic violence, misconceptions and stigma can literally be life-threatening, making it harder for survivors to seek help.
“This issue is too important, and the stakes are too high, for me to equivocate when I say that these comments are unacceptable.”