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January 18, 2011

A Bid for Justice

liz seccuro

Seccuro and friends during college.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Liz Seccuro

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After thinking and stewing and not sleeping, I've made a decision: I am going to reply to Beebe's letter. I need to know he's in Las Vegas and not creeping outside my door. That's it. End of story. On September 19, 2005, after putting Ava to bed, I'm sitting with my legs dangling in the pool of our Hamptons rental, puffing surreptitiously on a Marlboro (I'd quit years ago) as I tap out the e-mail on my BlackBerry.

Mr. Beebe: I am in receipt of your letter. My life was terribly altered by the fact that you raped me, and I want to know why you did it and why you are reaching out to me now. Every decision in my life has been colored by wanting to feel safe. Now I don't feel safe again. How can you live with yourself?

I don't sign it. He'll know who it's from.

As we try to enjoy our vacation, I obsessively check the BlackBerry. And then it arrives. I see the "new mail" icon in shiny bright yellow, see his name, and click on it. He describes the selfishness of his youth, a time when he rarely thought about the consequences of his actions, especially when he had been drinking. He'd joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He wanted to right the wrongs in his past. It seems that he regards his crime against me as just one more instance of collateral damage from the alcoholic life he has put behind him. He says he prays for me.

This is torture. I can't let this e-mail be the last word. Shamefully, I haven't discussed with my husband the correspondence—can't he tell something is wrong? That night, I e-mail Beebe back. Are you married? Does your wife know what you did? My life was a living hell after the rape. Almost 24 hours later, my BlackBerry buzzes. Again, he speaks mainly about himself and not the effect he had on me. "I get it! Alcoholism!" I yell out loud. "So what? That doesn't give you an excuse!"

The end of November brings so many emotions to my household. The e-mails from William Beebe continue to haunt me, and I intermittently e-mail him back. The correspondence is never friendly, although my questions are sometimes benign. I am still afraid he might come after me—I believe that if I stay in close touch with the predator, he can't sneak up on his prey. One night I finally tell Mike about the e-mails. He stares intently at me, his expression changing from sympathy to anger to fear in the time it takes for me to sputter out what is happening. I look up at him and see tears in his eyes. Beebe has hurt him as well.

In early December, I pick up the phone, hesitate, then punch in the number to the Charlottesville Police Department and ask for the chief. I am transferred to the voice mail of Timothy Longo. "Hi, you don't know me, but I was a student at the university, and I was raped by a fellow classmate in 1984 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. I reported it to the deans and the university police. Nothing was done. This person has made contact with me again and knows where I live. Sir, I think I need your help."

Forty-five minutes later, Chief Longo calls me back. I give him a synopsis of what had happened in 1984, what reporting procedures I had been through, the arrival of the letter in September, and what had transpired. He is polite, strong, and businesslike. He tells me that, contrary to what the Dean of Students had told me two decades earlier, the frat house is indeed under the Charlottesville Police Department's jurisdiction, and always has been. My brain freezes. Had they lied to me? I am stunned. Longo also tells me that there is no statute of limitations on rape in Virginia, that Beebe can still be charged with the crime. Longo and I exchange e-mail addresses, and he tells me that he or one of his detectives will follow up.

The next evening, the phone rings. It is Detective Nicholas Rudman of the Charlottesville police asking if I'd be willing to come to Charlottesville to give a statement. I ponder the logistics and think, Why not? I phone Mike, who is still at his office, and we agree to go that Friday night. At noon on Saturday, Detectives Rudman and Scott Godfrey are in the hotel lobby to meet me. It is a glorious late-fall day with deep-blue skies and brilliant sunshine, the kind of day that always reminds me why I love Virginia.

"Liz, could you take us to some of the places you mentioned in your statements to Chief Longo?" asks Godfrey. Sure, I say. As we drive, I point out the salmon-colored building that housed the university police and tell the detectives of my visits there. I point to the Phi Kappa Psi house, sitting gracefully on Madison Lane. "That's the room I was raped in," I say, gesturing toward the second-floor window on the far right. "There's a window overlooking Madison, and the bed was flush against that window."

We double back and drive toward campus, to my freshman dorm, and park. On the second floor, at the end of a long hall, I see the door to my room. I touch the door, almost caressing it. I feel overwhelmingly sad as I stand there, feeling so much older, but still so frightened. I show them the communal bathroom where I had showered the morning after the rape. I list off the names of friends who lived in each room, and I am amazed at my own power of recall.

Finally, we begin our drive to the police department. They ask if I am ready to tell what had happened to me that night in October 1984. It has been 20 years since I have spoken about it in such detail, from beginning to end. Telling it now, especially being back in Charlottesville, is the oddest sensation. I ask for a piece of paper and draw a layout of Phi Kappa Psi—the common rooms, the foosball table, the kitchen, the staircase, the bar. I draw a rough diagram of the room in which I had been raped and draw myself as a stick figure on the bed and on the sofa where I had awoken. I stand up and ask Detective Godfrey to stand in order to describe Beebe's height and weight. I take off my boots to demonstrate my own height. I can hear the clock on the wall ticking softly.

And then we come to the part where I have to describe the rape itself. I stumble frequently, but their questions are calm and direct. My whole statement takes more than two hours. The story I had kept buried comes pouring forth, the details fresh. People are listening to me, hearing me, and I will never be silent again. "I think we have enough here," says Rudman, clicking off the tape. "Would you like to press charges against William Nottingham Beebe for your rape in October of 1984?" The emotions are too much to bear, and I begin to sob. "Yes," I say, "I would like to press charges, please."

Read more about Liz Seccuro's groundbreaking case against her college rapist—and the shocking revelations it unearthed—in Crash Into Me (Bloomsbury USA).

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