Silence is the Second Villain in Sexual Assault
A young woman died recently in an apparent suicide at St. Mary's College in Indiana. On September 1, 2010, Elizabeth Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman, reported to Notre Dame Campus Police that she had been sexually assaulted the day before by a Notre Dame football player. The alleged attack took place August 31; Lizzy Seeberg died September 10 of a suspected overdose of a drug prescribed to her for depression and anxiety.
Lizzy, despite her trauma and fear, did her job. She told her friends about the assault. She wrote down what had happened in a hand-written statement. She sought treatment at a local hospital and consented to a DNA evidence kit. She reported the assault to Notre Dame police. She sought counseling.
So what happened in the intervening 10 days between the alleged assault and Lizzy's death? Apparently, not enough. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Lizzy became despondent after reporting the alleged attack and "feared people would dislike her for accusing a Notre Dame athlete of a sex crime."
The accused attacker is still playing football for Notre Dame.
I don't know what happened that day, and one of the only two people who knew for sure is dead. What I do know is that the system seems to have failed Lizzy, like it has failed so many victims of sexual assault.
What we have here is a failure to communicate. Campus police did not report the alleged assault to the St. Joseph County police, which handled the death investigation. Nor did campus police turn the case over to the county's special victims unit — the team most qualified to investigate sex crimes. In a statement, campus officials said "we involve law enforcement officials as appropriate." It seems to me that a report of sexual assault is the most "appropriate" time to involve law enforcement officials.Continued on the next page