Sunday, December 7, 2014

My review of Crash Into Me by Liz Seccuro

If you've been reading the news lately, you may have seen an article that was recently published by Rolling Stone about a young woman named "Jackie" who claims that she was gang raped at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia.  I read the article when it was hot off the presses, alerted to it by a friend of mine who is a college professor in Virginia.  Later, the media indicated that Jackie's story might not have been entirely truthful.  There were discrepancies in her story and it was clear that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had not done all of her homework.  She never attempted to get the other side of the story and, instead, just ran with her big, sensational piece that led to fraternity activities at the University of Virginia being temporarily suspended.

While it's disappointing when scandalous news is reported that turns out to be not quite true, the huge backlash from the original story did get people talking about rapes on college campuses.  That's how I came to discover Liz Seccuro's book, Crash Into Me.

On October 5, 1984, Liz Seccuro, then known as Liz Schimpf, was a first year student at the University of Virginia.  She was very proud to be at UVA, since she was the first person in her family to get to go to college.  With ambitions of becoming a writer, Liz planned to major in English.  At just 17 years old, she was still a minor, but fitting into campus life and making friends.

That October night, Liz's friend, Jim, asked her to accompany him to a party at a fraternity house.  Jim hoped to rush the fraternity and felt it would look better if he had a girl on his arm, even though he and Liz were strictly friends.  Liz didn't want to go to the party, but Jim made a strong appeal and she finally consented to go.  While they were at the party, Jim went outside to smoke some marijuana with some of the brothers.  Liz ended up talking to a large stranger who seemed to be hitting on her.

She was drinking her second beer when a brother handed her a very tart glass of spiked punch.  The punch apparently had some type of drug in it that incapacitated Liz, who was soon hustled into the stranger's bedroom.  The large man started pawing at her, reading her poetry, and finally, getting very physical.  Liz tried to escape, but her purse was locked away in a room.  As she screamed and banged on the locked door trying to get attention, her attacker and another man subdued her and dragged her back into the bedroom, where she was brutally raped.  As it turned out, she was raped not just by the first guy, but by at least two others.

When she regained consciousness hours later, Liz was wrapped in a bloody sheet.  Her attacker invited her to take one of his jackets since it was "chilly" outside.  Then he said he hoped he'd been "a gentleman".

Liz tried to get help for herself.  She first went to UVA's hospital, where she was told she'd need "tests" that they didn't offer there.  The nurse said she'd have to go to Richmond or Washington, DC to be properly examined.  Later, she went to student health, where she was examined by a nurse.  She spoke to deans, who seemed intent on sweeping the issue under the rug and handling it internally.  Liz was told that UVA preferred to "take care of their own".  She was also told that the Charlottesville Police Department did not have jurisdiction over the fraternity house, so they would have to deal with University Police.  As it turned out, that was a blatant lie.

Liz stayed in school, while her attacker, who claimed that their sexual encounter had been "consensual", withdrew from UVA.  Liz joined a sorority, made friends, dated a bit, and eventually graduated.  By September 2005, she was happily married to her second husband and enjoying their young daughter, Ava, and her thriving event planning business, when she got a strange letter in the mail.  It was from her attacker, William Beebe, an alcoholic living in Las Vegas who was trying to work his Alcoholics Anonymous steps by making amends to those he had harmed.  He was apparently tormented by guilt stemming from the attack and was reaching out to his victim, trying to right his wrongs toward her.

The initial letter came as Liz and her family were about to go on a working vacation.  It devastated Liz, who then began an email exchange with William Beebe.  Eventually, as there is no statute of limitations against rape in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Seccuro decided to press charges against Beebe.  Crash Into Me is her riveting, horrifying, yet beautifully written account of her experiences.

I must admit that I was partly interested in Seccuro's story because I am from Virginia and attended a college not too far from UVA.  Growing up, UVA was everybody's dream school.  It's an excellent public university where the parties are as legendary as its scholarship.  Greek life at UVA, as it was at my own alma mater, is very popular.  So is heavy drinking.  Though I don't remember any stories about sexual assault at my college, I'm certain they existed.  Perhaps they were even covered up, the same way they were at UVA when Liz Seccuro was a student.  I think it's shameful that this happened to Liz Seccuro or anyone else, but it's even more shameful that UVA apparently tried to sweep it under the rug rather than help victims seek justice.

When I was a freshman at what was at that time Longwood College, there was a big story about date rape in the news.  It involved Katie Koestner, who was a freshman at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  At the time, a former friend was attending William & Mary, so I heard all about the local uproar about Katie Koestner from her, especially when she appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine.  Later, Koestner spoke at the University of South Carolina, where I was in graduate school.     Koestner's story was somewhat different than Seccuro's in that she and her attacker had been out on a date.  In Seccuro's case, the attacker(s) were total strangers.    

I think Liz Seccuro's story is very important, especially to high school and college aged women.  While rape is never the victim's fault, Seccuro's story does offer a cautionary tale to women about staying safe at social events and being careful about drinking alcohol and being separated from a crowd.  Women shouldn't have to be so vigilant about their own personal safety, but unfortunately, there are a lot of creeps out there.  And apparently, rape is a big problem at UVA and elsewhere.  Even cultural icons like Bill Cosby, who made a career out of being "fatherly" and is the last person most would think capable of rape, is under fire for allegedly drugging and raping women.

I highly recommend Liz Seccuro's book, Crash Into Me.  


          

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