NEWS- 'Accidental activist': Seccuro's story crosses the pond
More than seven months after Liz Seccuro first went public with allegations of being raped by a fellow student at UVA in 1984, her story continues to make national– and now international– news.
On Friday, July 21, the BBC radio program "Outlook" aired a nearly 15-minute segment during which Seccuro discusses the need she feels to see the case through.
"This story is so not about me," she tells BBC interviewer Frederick Dove, explaining she's become an "accidental activist" for victims of rape around the world. In the U.S., the interview could be heard on XM radio and will remain on the website, bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/outlook.shtml, for one week.
Going public with her story, Seccuro says, is a way to communicate with other survivors and let them know they also can come forward without shame. "I have a responsibility," she says, "and I see it now."
Her appearances on, among other programs, Dateline NBC and the Today show– where she was interviewed by former anchor Katie Couric– have had a "tremendous impact, judging from the emails I get daily," she says on the program. "Everyone's rape is different, but there are long-lasting scars."
Seccuro's situation is unusual. Last September, as she was leaving her Greenwich, Connecticut home for vacation, she discovered a letter from her alleged rapist, William Nottingham Beebe, offering an apology– 21 years after the incident.
"I harmed you," he wrote in a letter prompted by his 12-step program. The two corresponded by email for two months before Beebe eventually sent what appears to be a confession. "I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you," he wrote. "I did." Seccuro, who was a 17-year-old first year in 1984, delivered the email to Charlottesville police, who arrested Beebe on January 4 at his Las Vegas home.
Now 39, Seccuro says she had no choice, and that at this point, even as the victim, she is obligated as a witness in a criminal case to tell the truth and allow justice to be served.
In addition to her television and radio appearances, and the numerous print articles that have been published– including the first, in the January 12 issue of the Hook– Seccuro has started a nonprofit organization, Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors, with the aim of raising rape awareness on college campuses and offering funds to other organizations that support rape survivors.
She has received grant requests from as far away as Africa, she says, and has been inundated with support.
"Your bravery is a deterrent to all who consider committing this crime," write "Supporters in Ireland."
"What a wonderful job you are doing!" writes another supporter in Hawaii. "I am so proud that you are able to do what so many cannot or will not do."
But not everyone believes Seccuro made the right decision. Reached by phone, Seccuro says she has been frightened by threatening emails she has received.
She estimates that 20 percent of the emails are "horrible," including "threats of dismemberment, of raping me again." Of those, she says, "90 percent are faith-based and say I must not be a Christian because I'm not able to forgive."
"I forgive him," she says, " but that has nothing to do with the criminal justice system."
In other television and print media interviews, Seccuro has repeatedly asserted that UVA mishandled her case and discouraged her from pursuing criminal charges. But on the BBC report, for the first time, UVA appears to be taking a stronger stance defending itself.
According to a University spokesperson who commented for BBC, in 1984 a university administrator "encouraged Ms. Seccuro to consider pursuing criminal charges with Charlottesville City police while letting her know that the decision was hers." The spokesperson adds, "Our records indicate that she chose not to do this."
UVA spokesperson Carol Wood did not respond to the Hook's request for comment by press time, and Seccuro stands by her earlier statements, adding that she has seen no evidence to contradict her memories. Reached at her home in Dallas, Sybil Todd, UVA's associate dean of students at the time of the incident, declined comment.
BBC also quotes Beebe's attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, repeating an assertion of his innocence.
"Mr. Beebe did not rape Ms. Seccuro," she says. "He treated her thoughtlessly in a college sex encounter for which he was sorry."
As for that purported confession?
"When Ms. Seccuro first described the encounter as a rape, Mr. Beebe did not challenge her recollection... In his reply, Mr Beebe sought only to avoid conflict, not to answer for a crime he did not commit."
Quagliana, who declined further comment for this story, has filed a motion to dismiss the case, which will be heard in Charlottesville Circuit Court in September.
Seccuro says she is focused only on seeing the case through so she can continue helping other rape survivors. "Everything that happens, happens for a reason," she says. "I knew when this occurred to me that someday I would be able to do something."
The 21-year-old matter exploded nationwide in January.