Powerful as this first-time author’s memoir, Crash Into Me, may be—a tale of bravery, rage and fortitude in the face of bald injustice—Liz Seccuro’s experience is likely one she would prefer never having experienced. Raped at age 17 at a frat party during her first semester at college, Seccuro had her adult life upended 22 years later when she received a letter from her assailant asking for forgiveness.
Seccuro’s subsequent e-mail correspondence with William Beebe, who’d quietly left the University of Virginia uncharged with the crime, led to his eventual prosecution and sentencing, which brought to light an awful fact shocking even to the author—two other men had also raped her that night. Though the uncanny details and protracted timeline from the assault to Beebe’s brief incarceration brought a surge of unexpected national media attention in 2006, here Seccuro attempts for the first time to set her astonishing story to the page, the work’s title evoking both the scary potentialities of her present state and the unlikely hobby that helps her escape them.
Is the title yours?
Yes, to me it’s a surfing analogy and an analogy of the ghosts of my past crashing into my future. When you’re surfing, which is the metaphor at the epilogue’s end and one of the things that helped me heal the most, where I surf it’s pretty crowded, and you have to do your darnedest to not crash into somebody, and I liked that as a title because there was a sense of joy with it. But also I remember feeling when I got the letter literally like my past just came crashing into me.
Is it fair to say that this is the victim impact statement you never got to share in court?
I think it is fair to say. This is, in a way, a very long version of the victim impact statement. My statement as it stood really talked about the effects on the family of the rape itself, then the intervening years, then the reopening of it via the letter, and then the effect the judicial process had on the family. It was also an answer to the national media attention, which opened a dialogue that should be continued. So it is, yes, the thing that I was denied in court, but also an answer to sort of flesh out the spectacular nature of what people were seeing, when it was really just an everyday story that plays out in courtrooms everywhere, unfortunately. I know it seems odd, and it does have twists and turns, but my story’s not wholly different than what you would see in any courtroom any day of the year.
But the time factor in your case—with the confessional letter asking forgiveness arriving 22 years after the assault, soon followed by your assailant’s prosecution—is extraordinary.
Um, yes. I think if it had been a cold DNA hit, people would have understood that more, or it would have been less extraordinary. Although in many of those cases, the statute of limitations has run out. That, to me, is truly heartbreaking, to feel that powerless. At least I had the power to call the police and say something.
You say you think the issue of forgiveness was the main reason your case has received so much media attention, that folks think you should forgive and then “give up” or walk away. Yet in relation to healing, Beebe, to me, robbed you of the luxury—temporary as it may have been—of forgetting and feeling the passage of time as a balm.
You know, the passage of time was a balm. I was leading a very happy life. I do now. I just don’t feel that it was his right to do that. His apology could have come from a very real place, or it could have been from a narcissistic place. I don’t know, and it’s not for me to judge.
Ultimately, it’s not for anyone to judge. Let’s just say I could have done without that letter. Although I have to say it taught me so much about how strong you can be, what the love of family can do, what amazing lengths people will go to and how committed they are to their calling. It also brought me to a place where I thought I’d like to do something with this and hear other people’s stories, and it’s astounding to me how frequent and common this story is.
We’re never going to stop the crime of rape from happening, but what we can do is change how victims are viewed, how they are treated, the services that they get and see that they are not ostracized. I don’t like being at the front of this charge right now. I am simply telling a story because at the very beginning, actually, my name just wasn’t blackened out of the court documents, and I was being hounded. I thought, Well, I’ve done nothing wrong. Why don’t I speak? A really benign and naïve thought, but I’m glad that I did it because it is a conversation that we should be having.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about human nature as a result of sharing your story?
The most surprising thing I did learn about human nature is that the vast majority of people are there to help and mean to do good. But it’s surprising that, even at very little cost to themselves, there is a very small minority that I am astounded lacks a moral compass. I think readers will be, too. And I’m not talking about the perpetrators. I don’t think we’ll ever know the real story, and I’m great with that. I’m happy not to know the rest of the story.
But what that letter opened and brought now in 2010-2011 is this little piece of doubt and what makes me so heartbroken in this case. At what point do you turn your back and say, I’m not going to cooperate. What is the moral hole in your heart not to come forward and say, You know what, I didn’t do anything that day, but I saw it, and I know what happened. Tell. It’s simple. To me, it’s simple. And that I don’t forgive. That’s the only thing. I don’t want to be playing with my grandchildren and have one of these people be on their deathbed and decide, You know, I really need to come clean. I don’t need that. I want this to be the final chapter.
Crash Into Me: A Survivor’s Search for Justice
Bloomsbury / Jan. 4, 2011 / 9781596915855 / $25.00