Painful memoir: 12-step rape victim's book hits shelves
It's been five-and-a-half years since Liz Seccuro received the letter that changed her life, and this month, her story, which attracted international news coverage, is being told again–- this time in her own words.
Seccuro's memoir, Crash into Me, a 256-page "tale of bravery, rage and fortitude" according to Kirkus Reviews, hit stands on January 3 as a first-person account of the night in October 1984 when she was raped in a University of Virginia fraternity house and the later devastation wrought by her assailant's apology.
While the title of the book seems to have another Charlottesville connection–- Dave Matthews Band's 1996 hit song by the same name–- Seccuro denies musical inspiration. Instead, she says, "We were drawn to the idea of the past 'crashing' into the present, as well as my pastime of surfing, where one frequently crashes into the sand or another surfer if one isn't careful."
While the book retraces many details of the case already reported in media accounts, it also makes public another allegation: that Seccuro was gang raped, and that her two additional assailants–- Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers–- have never been prosecuted.
"The case is still open," says Seccuro, who adds, "it was a relief to tell the whole story and not just the sensationalized bits that the media, quite understandably, focused on." She notes that the book "reads more like a thriller than a memoir," and says the fact that the case remains open "only makes it more exciting and puzzling for the reader."
As first detailed in the Hook's January 12, 2006 cover story, "I harmed you: 21 years, 12 steps later, rape apology backfires," Seccuro received a letter from William N. Beebe in September 2005 seeking–- as part of a 12-step program–- to make amends two decades after his assault. During an email correspondence between Seccuro and Beebe that spanned two months, a devastated Seccuro pleaded for an explanation of the night when, as a 17-year-old UVA first-year student and virgin, she attended a party at the Phi Psi fraternity house at the north end of Mad Bowl on Rugby Road.
Seccuro recalled drinking one beer, and then accepting a green drink that was described to her as "the house specialty." Quickly after consuming it, she writes, "the drink disoriented me," and as she searched for the friend with whom she arrived, she writes, she was hauled into a bedroom where Beebe forcibly held her on his lap while reading poetry. She recalls briefly escaping his grasp and kicking on a door where she believed a sympathetic fraternity brother was inside, but to no avail. She was once again dragged back to the room and raped. In her book, she alleges that attack was perpetrated by three men and that the fraternity was engaged in a cover-up by the following morning.
The allegation of gang rape is one about which Seccuro has long had suspicion–- but no clear memories. According to her book, the information was gleaned during the course of investigation by Charlottesville police, the Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney's office, and by the private investigator hired by Beebe's defense team. The book uses pseudonyms for suspects and witnesses, but identifies one potential witness as the son of a "much loved elected government official" and whose father was a "dear friend of George W. Bush."
Another target of Seccuro's book is the University of Virginia, which Seccuro says did little to help her find justice. Her effort to get a "rape kit" performed at UVA hospital failed, and she has repeatedly alleged that UVA's then dean of students discouraged her from pressing charges and instead suggested she transfer schools.
In 2004–- nearly 20 years after Seccuro's rape–- UVA students told similar stories of their assailants allowed to remain at school and of an administration that sought to keep the problem under wraps. The Hook's November 2004 cover story, "How UVA turns its back on rape," detailed the experience of Annie Hylton, whose unprosecuted rape prompted a 400-student protest and led to the rewriting of the school's sexual assault policies.
In Seccuro's case, after multiple emails, Beebe eventually admitted to raping her, opening the door to a prosecution. (Virginia has no statute of limitations on felonies.) Beebe pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of aggravated sexual battery in late 2006 and was sentenced to 10 years with all but 18 months suspended in March 2007. He served six months in jail, and is now a registered sex offender living in Richmond and working for a business consulting firm. Reached at work, Beebe declined comment.
Seccuro says the book–- excerpted in this month's Marie Claire–- may be difficult to read, particularly for other rape survivors.
"I purposely did not sanitize the book," says Seccuro, noting an effort "to speak to an audience who may not know what rape can be like." In spite of the graphic descriptions, Seccuro says she hopes readers will be uplifted. "Ultimately, she says, "the message is one of joy."