In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the university held a seminar with guest speaker and sexual assault survivor Liz Seccuro on April 18.
Seccuro said that it is important to be aware of sexual assault, since there are more cases that take place than are actually reported. She said only 3 percent of cases see a courtroom, which is even less than the number of cases reported. The seminar began with a discussion of the “red zone,” or the period of time that encompasses 50 percent of a student’s freshman year, when most cases of sexual assault occur.
Early in her presentation, Seccuro shared her own story. About five weeks into her freshman year at the University of Virginia, in the fall of 1984, Seccuro said she attended a party with a friend who asked Seccuro to accompany him as his date to a party at the fraternity house. At the party, she accepted a drink from members of the fraternity.
Seccuro said she noticed something was wrong soon after as she began to lose feeling in her arms and legs. She said she was taken to another room where she was beaten and gang-raped. She told students about the helplessness she felt as she looked out the window and saw people she knew walking by, unable to hear her screams. Seccuro said she eventually fell unconscious, only to wake up the next morning wrapped in a bloody sheet. She said she then walked to the nearest hospital with three broken toes only to be told that she could not receive care because the hospital didn’t have a rape kit.
After she told people at her dorm what had happened, Seccuro said some sympathized, others rolled their eyes and told her she should know better and others called her a “slut” or a “whore.” Seccuro then decided to tell one of the deans at the university that she had been raped and that she wanted to press charges. He told her that she was “mentally ill.” Seccuro said she reported the incident to the campus police, but a case was never established.
In 2005, one of Seccuro’s attackers mailed a letter to her home to apologize. She began corresponding with him via email to get answers regarding the night of her attack. Seccuro said that despite his initial apology, the attacker continued to claim that he felt it was a “romantic encounter.” It was not until after his arrest in 2006 that Seccuro discovered that there were at least two other rapists and that she had been gang-raped. He was sentenced to ten years, but ended up serving less than six months.
During the trial, witnesses were also contacted to give statements. However, many refused to participate. Seccuro said she had also attempted to speak to the University of Virginia administration to attempt to reform the policies, but they ignored her, and those that met with her at the time of her attack denied ever meeting with her. Seccuro said that there are many sexual assault cases in which the victims are not taken seriously.
“We live in a world where the word of the victim means nothing because we live in a world that ‘needs to see receipts,’” Seccuro said.
Seccuro encouraged students to take the information they learned back to the faculty and make sure they know that this issue is important to students.