Tuesday Reads, Part I: “Rape is as American as Apple Pie”

Lizzy Seeberg

Lizzy Seeberg

Good Morning!!

I decided to do the morning reads in two parts today. Part I is another tale of America’s rape culture. Part II will provide other news links. That way if you can’t face reading Part I, you can return for Part II in a little bit. Here goes….

I was very glad to see that Notre Dame was crushed, 42-14, in the BCS championship game last night. Thank goodness keeping two accused rapists on their team didn’t help Notre Dame in the end. Dave Zirin at the Nation compares the reactions of sports writers to the scandals at Penn State vs. Notre Dame:

Two storied college football programs. Two rape scandals. Only one national outcry. How do we begin to explain the exponentially different levels of attention paid to crimes of violence and power at Penn State and Notre Dame?

At Penn State, revered assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys while being shielded by a conspiracy of silence of those in power at the football powerhouse. At Notre Dame, it’s not young boys being raped by an assistant coach. It’s women being threatened, assaulted, and raped by players on the school’s unbeaten football team. Yet sports media that are overwhelmingly male and ineffably giddy about Fighting Irish football’s return to prominence have enacted their own conspiracy of silence….

The main reason this is taking place is because their accusers are not pressing charges. One cannot, because she is dead. Nineteen-year-old Lizzy Seeberg, a student at neighboring St. Mary’s College, took her own life after her claims of being assaulted in a dorm room were met with threats and indifference. The other accuser, despite description of a brutal rape, won’t file charges—“absolutely 100%”—because of what Seeberg experienced.

I’ll provide a few more links about Lizzy’s story in a minute, but Zirin says straight out what I have been thinking for a long time: Violence against women has become “normalized” in American culture.

This is not just a Notre Dame issue. At too many universities, too many football players are schooled to see women as the spoils of being a campus god. But it’s also an issue beyond the commodification of women on a big football campus. It’s the fruit of a culture where politicians can write laws that aim to define the difference between “rape” and “forcible rape” and candidates for the Senate can speak about pregnancy from rape being either a “gift from God” or biologically impossible in the case of “legitimate rape.” It’s a culture where comedians like Daniel Tosh or Tucker Max can joke about violently raping, as Max puts it, a “gender hardwired for whoredom.” The themes of power, rape and lack of accountability are just as clear in the case of the Steubenville, Ohio, football players not only boasting that they “so raped” an unconscious girl but feeling confident enough to videotape their boasts.

After I read this article, I looked for more background on the Notre Dame situation. I ended up so depressed and nauseated that I couldn’t write this post last night. Sorry–I’ve been doing that a lot lately, but sometimes after I read the latest bad news, I need to sleep on it before I can write about it.

Melinda Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumnus and Washington Post columnist, has been writing about the cover-up at Notre Dame for a couple of years now, and she probably deserves credit for keeping the story alive, though low on the radar. Here’s a piece she wrote in December: Why I won’t be cheering for old Notre Dame.

Two years ago, Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary’s College, across the street from Notre Dame, committed suicide after accusing an ND football player of sexually assaulting her. The friend Lizzy told immediately afterward said she was crying so hard she was having trouble breathing.

Yet after Lizzy went to the police, a friend of the player’s sent her a series of texts that frightened her as much as anything that had happened in the player’s dorm room. “Don’t do anything you would regret,” one of them said. “Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea.”

At the time of her death, 10 days after reporting the attack to campus police, who have jurisdiction for even the most serious crimes on school property, investigators still had not interviewed the accused. It took them five more days after she died to get around to that, though they investigated Lizzy herself quite thoroughly, even debriefing a former roommate at another school with whom she’d clashed.

Six months later — after the story had become national news — Notre Dame did convene a closed-door disciplinary hearing. The player testified that until he actually met with police, he hadn’t even known why they wanted to speak to him — though his buddy who’d warned Lizzy not to mess with Notre Dame football had spoken to investigators 13 days earlier. He was found “not responsible,” and never sat out a game.

Even after Lizzy killed herself, Notre Dame officials continued to investigate her and try to tarnish her character. They painted her as possibly mentally ill and claimed she had been the aggressor in the assault. Notre Dame’s president, Holy Cross Fr. John Jenkins, repeatedly refused to meet with Lizzy’s family and did not even extend condolences to them after her death. It is obvious that there is a culture at Notre Dame (and at other colleges and universities) that protects athletes and covers up their violent acts against female students. Naturally, the next girl–who was violently raped–by a member of the football team decided it wasn’t worthwhile to complain about it.

You can read more on this case by Henneberger here. As she investigated, Henneberger found that the rape culture at Notre Dame goes way back.

In 1974, a South Bend woman who was hospitalized and then spent a month in a psychiatric facility after reporting being gang-raped by six Notre Dame football players was described by a top university administrator as “a queen of the slums with a mattress tied to her back.” No charges were filed, but the accused were suspended for a year for violating school rules. At the time, even so revered a figure as Holy Cross Fr. Theodore Hesburgh said: “We didn’t have to talk to the girl; we talked to the boys.” Hesburgh, who is 94, made that remark to Notre Dame alumnus Robert Sam Anson, who in his student days had founded the campus newspaper. Anson quoted Hesburgh in a story very much like this one, written 35 years ago.

In talking to friends who had also gone to the school, Henneberger heard more and more stories of rapes and cover-ups.

the real constant seems to be, as my friend Ann Therese Palmer put it, “If this happens to you, then you’re the one who is wrong.” Palmer, an attorney and financial writer who was in the first class of women at Notre Dame in 1972, loves our alma mater as much as anyone I know….

Recently, though, so many daughters of her Notre Dame friends have been raped on campus that she’s concluded she needs to warn women who are thinking of attending. The tipping point came when she realized that two friends who’d been roommates both had daughters who had reported being raped at Notre Dame — and that one of the accused was the son of yet another friend and alumna. “It’s not the Notre Dame I knew.”

But then, there is so much we did not know about what went on even back then that it’s only now I realize that when I was a freshman, I knew one of the players accused of raping that so-called queen of the slums a couple of years earlier; we flirted in the dining hall sometimes, and I certainly never heard that about him. And even if I had heard the story, would I have believed it?

That same year, a 17-year-old across the street at St. Mary’s was not having such a wonderful time. Now a lawyer, she contacted me after reading an earlier story I wrote about Lizzy Seeberg to say that two of the same young men accused in the case Anson wrote about, along with a third man, were caught in the act of raping her in her dorm room two years after the original case. Her resident assistant shooed them out of the room and took her to a top St. Mary’s official, who she says told her that one of the men had raped another St. Mary’s student as well. And then? “I was told to shut up and mind my own business,” and she did, until now. Which is not to say she ever really healed: “Every part of my life, every decision I’ve made has been completely different because of what happened that night.”

Surely such things will keep happening, too, as long as there is such a straight line between the collective shrug over that “queen of the slums,” and the disrespect shown Lizzy Seeberg even in death.

Yes, it will undoubtedly keep happening, even after the months-long civil rights investigation of Notre Dame’s sexual assault policies by the Department of Education; because, as Jessica Valenti recently wrote, “rape is as American as apple pie.”

I’ll end Part I with some quick updates on the Steubenville rape case.

Daily Beast: Actress Traci Lords recalls being raped at age 10 in her hometown of Steubenville, Ohio.

Atlantic Wire: The Steubenville Rape Case’s Party Host Has His Sports Scholarship Under Review. (This is about Charlie Keenan, son of Steubenville’s prosecuting attorney.)

Daily Beast: Michael Nodianos of Steubenville ‘Rape’ Video Drops Out of OSU, Citing Threats. Oh, boo hoo hoo.

New Details Emerging In Steubenville Rape Investigation

See you in a little while with more news links!

20 Comments on “Tuesday Reads, Part I: “Rape is as American as Apple Pie””

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Steubenville schools in temporary lockdown after some kind of threat.

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    This must be where “rape” is considered a blessing. Being held down against your will by a group of men considered “athletic stars” in their communities who escape any form of justice simply owing to the ability to toss, hit, or catch a ball.

    Lucky these young women who lived to talk about it did not become pregnant as some states would force her to carry to term or be considered a “murderer” had she undergone an abortion.

    You cannot read this stuff and the follow up to the incidents that find the victim “at fault” and not become nauseous in the process. Access to alcohol and a culture of defending this behavior because it involves the possibility of earning a “trophy” is astonishing. No different than the culture at Penn State that chose to protect the offender as young boys were raped and all due to another “championship season”.

    However, this mindset against women can be traced right back into the home. This stuff does not happen overnight nor does it exist in a vacuum.

  3. Delphyne says:

    I join you in being depressed and nauseated by this story and the world wide rape of women and children, along with the environment. My brain today simply cannot take in the violence. All I want to do is close my eyes and take a nap. I think I’ll go read Sultana’s Dream again before that nap, though.


    • Boo Radly says:

      Ditto – depressed, nauseated by all – brain/heart simply overwhelmed today…….it’s like Groundhog Day – over and over again. No morality left – nothing that was considered wrong or valuable years ago, is upheld. Running out of hope since there are many who feel the same way and we can’t seem to change anything.

  4. RalphB says:

    As usual in these posts, I’m just at a loss for words. However, Jessica Valenti is right about the nature of our culture.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I think we all feel the same way, Ralph; but it has to be difficult to be a man who doesn’t hate women and have to read this stuff.

      Unfortunately the only way things will change is shedding light on the dark corners of our culture. There was a time not so long ago when when rape wasn’t taken seriously at all and was barely prosecuted. There have been positive changes. What’s so sad is to see that the cultural conditioning is continuing, generation after generation.

  5. ecocatwoman says:

    Rape, obviously, isn’t limited to just America. Although I despise this axiom: prostitution is the oldest profession – I’d like to amend that to Rape is the oldest crime.

    As far back as history exists (and even for the bible thumpers who consider their bible “history”), women have been the “spoils of war.” As long as women continue to be considered “other”, not fully human, property, they will continue to be treated as such. They will continue to be considered the “perp” and not the victim.

    I’m not as well read as most everyone on SD, don’t have RSS feeds that I read daily, but the mention of Robert Sam Anson made me nearly jump out of my seat. In the early 70s I subscribed to what I still consider the best damn magazine ever printed – New Times. Anson was my must read in every issue. The magazine’s demise was heartbreaking for me. 40 years later, I still have my copies squirreled away to pull out from time to time. As mentioned above of Anson’s coverage of an ND rape when he was in college, many of the stories in those New Times articles are as relevant today as they were then. Some things NEVER change, except possibly to get worse.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I hate to say this, but there is most likely an evolutionary aspect to violence against women. Violence against females happens in the higher apes–even gang violence. But we humans have the capacity to be self aware and we can learn to control our urges. There is no doubt about that.

      So why does society continue to excuse men who act out violently? Because the violence of a small number of men helps to keep women under control. And the more women have asserted their humanity and their power, the more some men fear losing that control. And some women even fear coming out from under their husbands’/fathers’ thumbs. I don’t think this problem will be solved for many generations.

      • Delphyne says:

        I agree, too, BB.

        One of my FB friends posted something on the Afghan Women’s Writing Project, which I blogged last month. The picture showed a woman in full burqa and the caption went something like “I promise I will take my revenge, but not like men – not with gun and sword and aggression. Instead, I will write.”

        I commented that I loved that site and hoped that the group got a lot of good press. The FB friend and another one of her friends immediately commented that the men that they knew and loved never used aggression and respected them. It left me a bit stunned. It was as if even mentioning the violence that men inflict on women had to be softened by saying that the men they knew didn’t do that.

        I just didn’t get it.

      • hyperjoy says:

        I hate to say this, but there is most likely an evolutionary aspect to violence against women. Violence against females happens in the higher apes–even gang violence.

        Bonobos have even more genetic material in common with humans than chimpanzees. Bonobo society is peaceful and female centered.

        But we humans have the capacity to be self aware and we can learn to control our urges. There is no doubt about that.


      • Good point BB…very good point!

  6. Fannie says:

    Thank you again BB, you are the best when it comes to helping us understand the “wounds from rape” and the need to expose the wound has never been greater, because with all that hurt, women are turning to suicide………..it’s all so wrong, and the crimes against women are growing everyday, and part to blame is the war against women, from our politicians. I blame it on that hate movement that is found every single day in our country, in our homes.

    I didn’t watch the football game last night, I just wish a group of women would have been there handing out flyers about rape, and the situation there on campus. I just wish the towns folks were more involved in stopping this. In the past, female students who have reported rape to campus police, often times the campus police fail to notify the chief of police of that town, and I can’ understand why they delay or don’t even report it.

    I know it’s a struggle to report on rape, but we are tired of paying the price, paying hell for the actions or lack of actions to do something about it.

  7. purplefinn says:

    Thanks for posting on this vital and painful subject. Men dominate our world. For the most part they make the rules and choose when and how to enforce them. Justice, freedom, equity and respect for all hangs in the balance. Exposing the underbelly of corruption is an act of resistance. Telling the difficult truths frees us all.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, purplefinn. It’s good to see you.

      • purplefinn says:

        This site remains one of my top “go to” sites. You all work so hard to give us news, opinion and hope. Thank you.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Catching up late again. Glad you wrote this post, BB. Speaking out about this pain must be done.