Internet commentary about the suicide of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg after an alleged sexual assault from a Notre Dame football player has taken on a number of different viewpoints on where the blame for her death should lie. While most express condolences for Lizzy Seeberg’s death many maintain that the Notre Damn football player in question for the assault should have no penalties to his athletic career until the charges are formally filed. Attorney Roger Canaff wrote an eloquent letter expressing his condolences for Lizzy’s death while simultaneously applauding her courage to report her sexual assault. Canaff states, “I don’t understand why the man you reported against has played an entire season of football. While it’s true that he is and should be considered innocent until proven guilty, his privilege to play football is not in any way related to his legal rights as a citizen.”
What is disturbing about the young man accused being able to play an entire season of football is that it appears to send a message, whether intentional or not, that the reputation of college athletic programs is more important than reporting incidents of sexual assault or violence. Many of the comments on various news and editorial postings about Lizzy Seeberg state “Remember Duke Lacrosse” (an incident in 2007 where three Duke Lacrosse players were falsely accused of sexual assault from a stripper they had hired for a party) as if one false accusation of sexual assault is enough to make up for the 25% of women who will be beaten or raped in their lifetimes. Victim blaming comments perpetuate a system that normalizes violence against women and takes credit away from the very real pain many victims of interpersonal violence experience. To advocate for the accused young man to continue to play football despite allegations of rape against him, while simultaneously maintaining that one does not condone violence against women is both contradictory and naive.
Roger Canaff commends Lizzy for her courage to speak out against her assault and how it is the fault of a system of normalized violence against women, not her own actions, that led to a delay in the investigation of her rapist. Canaff serves as an excellent example of an active bystander speaking out against the sexual assault of Lizzy Seeberg. Allies like Mr. Canaff serve an important role in making interpersonal violence prevention and intervention pertinent to all people, not just women.
Victims of any kind of abuse deserve to be believed. At FVPC we advocate for and believe survivors. If you are feeling scared or hurt in a relationship call our hotline at 919-929-7122 or come into our office to talk with an advocate.
Update & Note 12.9: The comment below draws attention to the fact that our language in the original post was unclear. We didn’t mean that 1 in 4 women will be raped in their lifetime but rather than 1 in 4 will be raped or physically assaulted. This “1 in 4” statistic is where the name of this blog comes from since domestic violence covers a broad range of abuse, including sexual assault. But we have corrected the confusing language and hyper-linked that statistic for those who want more details.