>For women, cries of sexual assault and rape continue to fall on indifferent ears

>Decades after protests, sit-ins and bra burnings, women and girls have made tremendous strides and progress in equality and success in many aspects of our society. Women now surpass men when it comes to graduating high school and college and continue to excel in post-graduate studies.

Despite these historic gains, women and girls continue to be bound by a male-centered society that inherently teaches its young to view everything the female gender says and does as suspect. This can not be further from the truth when it comes to women and girls reporting incidents of sexual assault and rape. Two recent cases in the news is a prime example of what can happen when women decide not to remain silent in the shadows about their ordeals.

The University of Norte Dame, the private higher education institution that prides itself as one that stands for “values in a world of facts,” remains mum on the details surrounding the suicide of a 19-year-old student after reporting she was sexually assaulted by one of the school’s football player.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a freshman at neighboring St. Mary’s College who had battled depression, apparently overdosed on prescription medication in her own room during the third week of classes in September. The player, meanwhile, has remained on the field. More than two months later, Notre Dame refuses to publicly acknowledge the case, and what actions university officials have taken to investigate her allegation remain largely unknown. Campus authorities did not tell the St. Joseph County Police Department investigating Seeberg’s death about her report of a sexual attack, county officials said. Nor did they refer the case to the county’s special victims unit, which was established to handle sex offenses, according to prosecutors.

The Chicago Tribune also reports the family of Seeberg have hired former federal prosecuor Zachary Fardon to look into details of the case. On Aug. 31, Seeberg alleged she was sexually assaulted, though not raped, by a Norte Dame football player. She informed her dorm mates about the incident and recounted the incident in a hand written account. She then notified Norte Dame campus police the following day, received treatment at a local hospital and was offered counseling.

In an interesting twist of events, the St. Joseph  County Police Department informed the Chicago Tribune they were indeed notified by the school about the allegation.

In a Chicago Tribune report Sunday detailing Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg’s sexual battery complaint, Assistant Chief William Redman was quoted saying the department investigating Seeberg’s death had not been told about her sexual attack complaint. Redman said that after the story was published, a detective investigating the death told him that Notre Dame police had called the detective “a couple days” after he was assigned to the matter to inform him about her allegation. 

The detective did not document the phone call, Redman said, so the precise timing is unknown. The detective also did not mention the sexual attack complaint in his official report about Seeberg’s apparent suicide, according to the assistant chief. 

He just didn’t feel it was important,” Redman said Tuesday, adding he did not fault the detective for the omission. “There was nothing suspicious about her death.” 

More from the story: 


In that story published Sunday, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph Prosecutor Michael Dvorak said the Notre Dame police had not forwarded a case to the office. After reading the story, Dvorak said he learned the case had come to his office a few days before.

It should be noted Norte Dame still has not commented on the case, but a university spokesperson released a statement, calling the Tribune story as one that gave “false impressions.” Norte Dame head football coach Brian Kelly joked about the matter during a press conference.

“I didn’t know you guys could afford all those guys,” Kelly said during the conference call, a reference to Tribune Company’s lingering bankruptcy.


A student is dead after alleging one of your boys sexually assaulted her two weeks into the semester and you  have the nerve to joke about the Tribune Company’s money woes. Kelly’s attempt to diffuse a situation that puts one of his players in a questionable light represents a larger societal tendency to dismiss a woman’s claim of rape/sexual assault. His ability to even crack a joke in this sobering matter speaks volumes about his–and men in general–perceptions about rape and rape victims.

The story of a Silsbee, Tx., teenager being kicked off her cheerleading squad for not cheering for the football player she accused of sexually assaulting her. Idenfitied as H.S., the cheerleader in fall 2008 allege three teenage boys, including star basketball player Rakheem Bolton, sexually assaulted her at a party. Bolton and the others were arrested, but a grand jury declined to indict them.

(Bolton was later indicted on a Class A Assault charge and was given a suspended one-year sentence).

Several months later during an away basketball game, H.S. refused to participate in a cheer the squad did specifically for Rakheem. The principal then decided to kick the student off the squad, but the student and her family decided to file charges that her First Amendment rights were violated. According to the aforementioned article, the school also encouraged H.S. to keep a low profile (meaning don’t congregate in the school cafeteria and attend any Homecoming activities).

In October, a federal appeals court panel ruled the student didn’t have the right to refuse to cheer for her allege assailant.

Despite all the gains women have made in this country, rape continues to be a crime that women have to consistently prove it occurred and we fought back with all our might to thwart an attack. Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 classic Against Our Will brought to the forefront this legal/cultural burden and how rape is the only crime in which victims have to prove they put forth some effort to strike back against their attackers.

This burden–and the subsequent public humiliation that comes with going forth with a rape charge–often prevents many women from reporting their rapes in the first place. According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to police departments. According to the National Organization for Women, there were 232,960 women who were raped or sexually assualted in 2006. It should be noted that figure was pulled from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which includes crimes that were NOT reported to the police.

Victims of rape often face snide and insensitive questioning and investigatory practices by local police and sheriff’s departments when reporting a crime. Many officers and detectives sadly are indifferent to the trauma victims experience during an attack. Unfortunately, many officers continue to perpetuate the notion a victim was asking for the attack because of what she wore, where she was, how much alcohol was in her system and who she invited into her apartment. These officers let their apathy show through their oft-sloppy and negligent detective work. Or, as in the Ben Roethlisberger case, a man in blue may serve as your ally to protect an assailant from a trumped up rape charge by a drunken college student.

The litmus test women are faced with when reporting a rape, whether it’s from her parents, friends, local police, local district attorneys, media or even the public, is enough to make even the most strong-willed woman to recluse into the shadows after experiencing the trauma of sexual assault. Our society doesn’t welcome–or encourage–victims of sexual crimes to speak up and speak out about their experiences. Our society, seeped in its custom of men making and shaping laws, values and morals, protects the male accused from a woman scorned. As Brownmiller discussed in her book, laws of rape and sexual assault are predicated on the idea that women have a tendency to lie/exaggerate and thus the law should protect men from these treacherous women. Any feminist, womanist or person with half of a brain can lament the fact that these attitudes and misconceptions about rape still exist today.

Both cases also exemplify the problem with the American justice system and with society at large. America and its people have been brainwashed by a rape-culture philosophy that exists to not only encourage male sexual aggression and violence towards women, but reminds women of their second-class status in our society. These two institutions are a shining example of the indifference and callous nature many folks continue to have in this country about rape, its twisted endorsement of male sexual aggression and the overall devaluation of women.

The University of Norte Dame, its campus police department and the St. Joseph County Police Department’s oblivion about the serious nature of the crime. The detective negligence (more like refusal, in my opinion) to connect the dots between that student’s suicide and her allegations represent not only sloppy police work, but a hardened and uncouth attitude about what this young woman could have gone through. The school’s insistence on hiding behind its private institution status represents its nonchalant philosophy about the serious nature of this student’s suicide. Kelly’s off-colored remarks towards Tribune reporters shows his cold, apathetic demeanor as one of his players has the cloud of rape hanging over his head.

Rape culture and its teachings also clouded the judgment of that Texas school district. After H.S. filed an incident report, the school and its officials treated her as if she did something wrong. The principal and the district as a whole told this lady not to congregate in communal areas of the school and to make herself as inconspicuous as possible. How many times have we heard about instances in which the victim, not the accused, is forced to go through legal and cultural hassles when he/she comes forward with a complaint?

The idea of kicking this student off the team because she refused to cheer for a person she said assaulted her fully demonstrates the lack of understanding and training this principal and this district has for potential victims of crime. The idea that a victim would be forced to show approval of his or her assailant is not only repulsive, but downright cruel and intolerable. Any rape victim–or survivor of a violent crime–should be outraged at this district’s lack of common sense in their handling of this situation.

In a country that prides itself on equality, liberty and economic and political freedom, victims of rape and sexual assault continue to face numerous societal and cultural pressures when they brave the flames of rape culture and machismo to report their crimes. It’s nothing short of ironic that victims of sexual crimes are bound by a code that seeks to confine them in a second-class realm in the name of protecting the constitutional rights of the accused.