Sexual Assault on Campus: Lizzy's Ordeal: Lizzy Seeberg Committed Suicide after Reporting a Sexual Assault on Notre Dame Campus; Other Women Say the Case Is All Too Familiar

By Henneberger, Melinda | National Catholic Reporter, March 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

Sexual Assault on Campus: Lizzy's Ordeal: Lizzy Seeberg Committed Suicide after Reporting a Sexual Assault on Notre Dame Campus; Other Women Say the Case Is All Too Familiar


Henneberger, Melinda, National Catholic Reporter


On her way back to St. Mary's College from the University of Notre Dame, just across the street in man Lizzy Seeberg texted her therapist that she needed to talk ASAP. "Something bad happened," read her message, sent at 11:39 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2010. A sophomore in their dorm bolted from her study group after getting a similar message. When they talked few minutes later, Lizzy was crying so hard she was haying trouble breathing: "She looked really flushed and was breathing heavily and talking couldn't understand her. I just heard her say 'boy,' 'Notre Darne,' 'football player.' She was crying and having the Closest thing to a panic attack I've seen in my life. I told her to breathe and sir down and tell me everything"

What she eventually did tell both her therapist and her friend that night--then committed to paper, in a handwritten statement she and the other young woman carefully signed, dated and handed over to campus police the next day, is that a Notre Dame football player sexually assaulted her in his room after two other students left them alone there. Yet Notre Dame police, who have jurisdiction to investigate even the most serious crimes on campus, still had not interviewed him when she committed suicide 10 days later--and wouldn't for another five days. "He started sucking my neck and I started crying harder," Lizzy wrote. "He pulled down my tank top by the straps. He slipped them down my shoulders and proceeded to suck and lick my right breast while holding me down on his lap by the arms. I felt his hands start to move down towards my shorts as if he was trying to unbutton them or pull them off. I was still crying at this point and felt so scared that I couldn't move." When the local prosecutor declined to bring charges, as expected in a case without a living victim, his press release made the allegations sound so tame: "specifically, the touching of her breasts."

All their lives, women Lizzy's age have been taught to report unwanted touching. But after she did, the same friend of the player who'd left her alone with him sent her a series of text messages that scared her as much as the player himself had. "Don't do anything you would regret," he wrote. "Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea." Over the next 10 days, Lizzy became convinced he was right about that. The player wasn't hard to find on the practice field each afternoon, so what were investigators waiting for? It crushed Lizzy, said her therapist in Chicago, Dr. Heather Hale, that reporting a crime somehow made her a traitor to the school she'd grown up revering. But she also couldn't get past the idea that failing to follow through legally would make her party to any harm that came to other women on campus, either from the same man or others emboldened by her silence. In a Skype session with Lizzy the day before she died, Hale said, "the conflict was, 'Do I do the best I can and get on with my life, versus the fear that if I do that, this could happen to someone else?"

Lizzy wanted it to be better for the next woman. But one subsequent case, never reported until now, involved another young woman who decided that you really don't mess with Notre Dame football. A year ago February, a female Notre Dame student who said another football player had raped her at an off-campus party told the friend who drove her to the hospital afterward that it was with Lizzy in mind that she decided against filing a complaint, that friend said.

In a sense, Lizzy's ordeal didn't end with her death. The damage to her memory since then is arguably more of a violation than anything she reported to police--and all the more shocking because it was not done thoughtlessly, by a kid in a moment he can't take back, but on purpose, by the very adults who heavily market the moral leadership of a Catholic institution. Notre Dame's mission statement could not be clearer: "The university is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake. …

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