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Sunday, March 11, 2007

SOUND OFF: MAKING AMENDS

Twenty years after sexually attacking Liz Seccuro while both were students at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, William Beebe -- a recovering alcoholic who had wrestled for years with whether making amends would further injure Seccuro -- sent her a letter of apology. Via e-mail, the Associated Press reported, Beebe acknowledged to Seccuro that he had raped her.

She responded by contacting authorities in Charlottesville and in Las Vegas, where Beebe lived. Beebe was arrested. In spite of his e-mail confession, he denied the rape, but eventually he pled guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery. The plea is believed to be in exchange for Beebe's cooperation with an investigation of others involved in the attack. Sentencing is scheduled for March 15.

Seccuro has started STARS, (Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors), a fund to assist rape survivors which may be reached at http://www.starssurvivors.org. She says that she has forgiven Beebe but still desires justice.

Was Beebe right, after 20 years, to contact Seccuro to apologize? Or did his effort to make amends lead to greater harm? Was Seccuro right to press charges after so long and in the face of obvious remorse? Is it possible to forgive and to demand justice at the same time?

E-mail your thoughts to rightthing@nytimes.com or post them here clicking on "comments" or "post a comment" below. Please include your name, hometown, and state, province, or country. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@nytimes.com or to "The Right Thing," The New York Times Syndicate, 500 Seventh Avenue, 8th floor, New York, NY 10018. Please remember to tell me who you are, where you're from, as well as where you read the column.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Jeffrey! Thanks for spotlighting this problem and for discussing both sides of the issue. Obviously, for me, as the victim, there is only one solution and that was to step forward as a citizen and, based on the laws of this nation, report the crime, even though it had been reported to no avail to University brass.

We've changed our website to www.starssurvivors.com as the old one crashed due to so much heavy traffic.

Thanks again! Liz Seccuro, CT

Anonymous said...

Okay, here we go. An admitted rapist thought it would be "cute" to "rub his victim's nose in it" after 20 years. What a creep.

You asked:

Was Beebe right, after 20 years, to contact Seccuro to apologize? Or did his effort to make amends lead to greater harm? Was Seccuro right to press charges after so long and in the face of obvious remorse? Is it possible to forgive and to demand justice at the same time?

1) If Beebe THOUGHT he was doing right, he would have had his worthless behind in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Police Headquarters to turn himself in - and made his very public apology (without mentioning his victim's name at that time) for his previous wrongdoing. This did not happen.

2) The obvious immediate result was further harm to Ms. Seccuro. Not just her memories, but to her career and her family. Beebe obviously got a thrill from reliving his misdeed.

3) Ms. Seccuro was quite right to "press charges" regardless of the time elapsed. We have here an admitted felon on the run for 20 years. Now he's "sorry"? Right. And I have land for sale a hundred miles off the coast of Siberia, too.

4) Forgiving (that's difficult) and demanding justice can and uoften do occur simultaneously.

5) Beebe was allowed to plead to lesser, reduced charges. That, dear readers, is NOT justice.

Kess

Maglaw said...

I don't know where the previous poster gets the omniscience to know that Beebe's apology to his victim was being "cute" and "rubbing his victim's nose in it," nor that he can't possibly be sorry - but I do know that he was described as a recovering alcoholic, and one of the steps in the AA program is apologizing to the people in your life that you have harmed. Obviously if he intended to keep on getting away with it, he wouldn't have made his identity and location so available.
Yes, a rapist is a creep by definition, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't been haunted by his act all these years as well as his victim. It seems to me that a truly evil person wouldn't have given it another thought. Seccuro had to do what she had to do, and contacting the authorities to bring charges seems like the logical next step. Whether or not she forgives him is her business.

Anonymous said...

"5) Beebe was allowed to plead to lesser, reduced charges. That, dear readers, is NOT justice."

So why would that be allowed and what is the reduced charge?

Jeffrey Seglin said...

You can read a fuller report of the case his plea to the lesser charge at http://www.cnn.com/2007/LAW/02/25/forgive.ap/

Based on that report drawn from the Associated Press, the lesser charge is aggravated sexual battery and that is what the Beebe's sentencing hearing on March 15th is for. The investigators have suggested that others were involved in the attack on Seccuro and presumably Beebe's cooperation in the investigation into these other attackers will play into how he is sentenced on March 15.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jeffrey. I heard about this case when it first hit the media, and promptly forgot about it. I was reminded of it when an A.A. friend wanted to discuss your recent column (London Free Press, March 10/07). She chose to focus on the error of William Beebe's actions, vis-a-vis the spirit versus letter of making amends according to the 12 Steps and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

As a feminist, iconoclast and 50-plus woman, I was more interested in Ms Seccuro's actions, in that she appears to be revelling in her victimhood and "15 minutes of fame". How valid is a support group under the aegis of a person who apparently hasn't moved on after 20 years? I'm thinking in particular of Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search For Meaning, based on his experience of the Holocaust. I'm not saying that Mr. Beebe was correct in what he did, but two wrongs do not make a right. My feeling is that neither of these two appear to have made more spiritual progress than was exhibited 20 years ago. Ms Seccuro has no more "forgiven" Mr. Beebe than he has fully taken responsibility for his actions. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.

Regards, Noralee S., Clinton, Ontario, CANADA

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor Seglin,

I am responding to Making Amends in your March 10 column. 18 years of sobriety in A.A., and success as a rape prosecutor motivates my p.o.v. and reason for writing - to wit, William Beebe should NOT have attempted to make amends in the manner he did.

One example in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous cautions against telling a partner of infidelity, much as the desire for forgiveness or exoneration may pressure one into such an act. Another example cautions against revealing anything that may result in incarceration, citing this as counterproductive to taking responsibility for one's life.

Being willing to make amends, as stated in Step 8, isn't enough. Step 9 says, in part, "Made direct amends <> except when to do so would injure them or others." Mr. Beebe's need to atone actually came at the expense of the victim, who was, in effect, retraumatised via his email. It was a dramatic and selfish gesture on his part, and every bit as antagonistic as the original violation. Confronting
his victim in an effort to force the desired response had nothing to do with healthy recovery in sobriety. One cannot acquire peace of mind from another person, whatever the motivation.

The healthy action would have been to share "the exact nature" of his guilt with another A.A. member so that it ceased to be a "guilty secret". Some better amends options that were available to him include anonymous direct financial reparation to his victim, or indirect financial amends through a donation to a women's shelter or anti-violence association. There are also many rape survivor support groups that might possibly have considered the benefits of hearing his confession and desire for forgiveness, and given permission for such, with the absolute proviso that anonymity was maintained for both rapist and victim.

I read your column in The London Free Press, and otherwise need to remain anonymous to comply with A.A. tradition. A friend has posted this on my behalf.

Respectfully, Pat H, Ontario, Canada

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Seglin,

Regarding 'Soundoff:Making Amends', I believe that William Beebe was right, even after 20 years to apoligize to Liz Seccuro. It is never too late to say you are sorry!

Liz Securro was also right to press charges. Having the matter dealt with legally, can only help both parties involved to come to terms with it.

How remorseful was Beebe when he afterwards denied the rape to authorities?

His confession and her reaction can help to bring about justice and the greater harm would have been for Beebe to continue in silence.

I enjoy reading your column regularly. Thanks,

Jill P.
London, Ontario
The London Free Press

Anonymous said...

Ms. Seccuro obviously believes in an eye for an eye, and in her zeal she struck blindly at Mr. Beebe and hit both him and his family. Mr. Beebe's remorse and desire to apologize for the wrong he did made him do a great wrong to his family. There are no winners in this situation.

To those who seem to feel Mr. Beebe wanted to "rub his victim's nose in it", what makes you think you know what was in his mind or on his heart? It appears remorse drove him to make the apology.

Rose said...

I just saw this story last night. I am 71 years, and as a young woman, 18 and 22 respectively, I was aquaintance raped. At that time, society did not want to hear of such things, much less acknowledge it. I told no one, and dealt with it as best I could. I gained a lot of weight (reached 300 pounds) in hopes that I would be totally unattractive. A false assumption on my part. I do not wish to state the many mistakes I made out of ignorance and lack of support. At 26 I married a man that I thought of as a last resort. Of that union, came three beautiful daughters. It is hard to believe the marriage lasted ten years, because I gave nothing of myself to my husband, or to the marriage. I have dedicated my life to my children and grandchildren, and now, my great grandchildren. I would not want to receive letters of apology. However, if the writers felt it necessary for their spiritual growth to write them, I would not use the letters against them. As a child I was told that although I could not control another's words or actions, I did have control over my responses and reactions to them. It is not for me to judge another. Although my early experiences were extremely painful, as time went on I began to see them as learning experiences on my life path. Because I did, I have had a good life. I have wonderful children, and a growing caring family. I feel great sympathy for Ms, Seccuro that she has been unable to let go of this unfortunate event. As for Mr. Beebe, I sympathize as well. He made a terrible mistake as a young man, and after years of guilt tries to make amends and lands in jail. I am sure there are a lot of people who would like to make amends for past wrong doing who will never try now.
In closing I would like to say that it is a shame that people spend their lives being bitter about things beyond control. Life is what we make it, so choices are everything. I must say I don't enjoy observing some people's choices.
Rose

Anonymous said...

My name is Dave, and I am a recovering alcoholic. I agree with the fellowship brother with 18 years who is a prosecutor who wrote above. Perhaps I can offer another insider AA's perspective to this. I saw last night the MSNBC "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" show which interviewed Ms. Seccuro and went throught the case, which is why I Googled these events today and ran across this site.

It is true we must make amends to those we have harmed except when to do so would cause further injury. This is so we can be free to be forgiven by God and walk as free people under God.

That said, my experience in AA leads me to strongly believe that his sponsor or some AA Old Timers told him to do it because he had no family of his own to provide for. This is a common misperception in the Big Books teachings for those who have committed crimes. This approach only looks at one half of the equation, and does not consider Liz's husband, nor Liz herself. Much, much prayer for guidance is needed in a situation like this, and I don't know if Mr. B did this or not. It is apparent that his amend did cause further harm to Liz and her family, and she is blessed with a wonderful husband who stands by her. Many men wouldn't, which is a shame.

Now, another issue is coming to light - there were others possibly involved in the commission of the crime of rape. If Mr. B knew this, and I'm thinking he did, right then and there the direct amend should not take place. These people may or may not have committed an actual crime, they may have families to provide for, someone can get wrongly imprisoned, divorced, and then go on to commit suicide in prison, this is one huge powder keg here. The fact that this is national news shows that.

If I were William B.'s sponsor, I would not have let him off the hook, though. He would have written that initial letter to Liz and kept it with him and ready to ask her if he could make amends to her should their paths ever cross, standing ever ready to do so. That puts their encounter (if they are supposed to have one) in Gods hands. God can arrange the meeting if it is necessary, and let's keep the foolish humans with their broken alcoholic minds out of this particular decision process. Humans will surely mess something this big up, and that is exactly what has happened here. BTW, if you do not think that these amends encounters happen when set up by God with the permission of a willing and humble penitent, you would be quite incorrect. When we put our lives on the spiritual basis these things happen all-the-time. Try it, you'll see.

As Mr. B's sponsor, he also would have set up some sort of anonymous foundation with the same purpose as STARS - and he would have funded it with his own money and ran it diligently til the day he died. Something along those lines. In some meaningful way, he would have found a niche in his off-work, off-AA time to work with women in this vocation, anonymously, and not just for one day or one donation. He might have placed himself at the assistance of men exiting prison who have been raped (there are so many of these men out there). He would have helped countless men and/orwomen who had been victims of rape in a meaningful way for the rest of his life.

And in doing so he would have been forgiven by God, he would have made amends, and no one else need suffer, or re-suffer after the fact.

This would completely fulfill, in Letter and in Spirit, "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others".

Rachel said...

Noralee is no feminist. If she were, she'd understand that Liz Seccuro is doing absolutely the correct thing in pressing charges against Beebe. Bringing this to the attention of the authority, now that times are different, will assure young men that rape is a serious matter, that taking advantage of a young woman by intoxicating or drugging her and then using superior strength to rape her is an issue that will never go away and might affect their lives when they least expect it.

How dare the "feminist" Noralee call Ms. Seccoro "bitter". Who the hell is she to say how someone who was brutally assaulted, whose life changed forever should act? In my mind Noralee is simply an apologist for drunks and their actions. Perhaps she has something she did in her past while drunk she's mightily ashamed of or worried will come to light and used this forum as a way to say, "No matter what we drunks do, it should be excused."

I only wish Ms. Seccoro could sue the University for failure to treat her the way they should, since they stood in loco parentis to her, a minor. I'm surprised Beebe wasn't guilty of statutory rape--unless, being as it was Virginia, the age of consent back then was 13!

Jason said...

I, too, watched the program "Confessions of Dangerous Mind" last night on MSNBC, the first that I had heard of this story.

My opinion of the matter is somewhat different than the, mostly female, response here. I agree that Beebe was criminal in his behavior that night in 1984, I do see several mitigating factors that diminish my sympathy for Ms. Securro.

First of all, there was a great deal of alcohol going around, affecting the judgement of everyone involved. If you *really* want to stay out of trouble at a fraternity party, don't drink and especially don't accept a mixed drink. Second, from what the program stated, this was a one-time deal. There was no pattern whatsoever of any criminal behavior before or after this incident. Everyone makes mistakes, especially in our youth and under the influence. It's the ones that don't learn that the penalties should greatly increase.

I do feel Beebe was being sincere in his apology letter some 20 years later. He obviously felt some powerful emotion, whether fear or regret, as he withdrew from UVA almost immediately. If he was really a jerk, he would not have continued the numerous exchange of emails as some here have claimed.

The biggest tragedy here is that there really was no winner. Mr. Beebe resorted to alcoholism to mask the guilt, unable to progress personally or professionally. Ms. Securro seemed unable to move on with her life as well for over 20 years, and because of the length of the state of victimhood, doubt she will be able to move on even now.

Gwyn said...

What a sad story. It seems to me that Ms. Seccuro has forgotten the purpose of punishment-to teach a lesson. I don't see the purpose in incarating someone who is already repented of their crime and wishes to make amnends. Perhaps as others have said, Mr. Beeb's approach was however well-intentioned, ill-conceived; but why should he pay double the price? If he wasn't sorry he wouldn't have contacted her in the first place! He was clearly a man burdened with his crime for 20 years with the guilt of his crime (which is longer than he may spend in jail nowadays), and at the risk of being retaliated against, chose to own up. That is such a shame that Ms. Seccuro is lacking in compassion for someone who hurt her, but at risk to themself, has come to confess anyway when he could have remain anonymous! And what does he get for it? A smack in the face. Ms. Seccuro is just seeking Vengeance at Beeb's expense. Unfortunately, she has not learned even after 20 years to move forgive and release those who hurt her-and especially the penitent. I hope she never is confronted with something criminal she did long ago, that she is now sorry for!
Gwyn from Anaheim, CA

Anonymous said...

I could not agree more with Gwyn. Seccuro is a vengeful, bitter person who is absolutely basking in her brief moment of fame. She speaks with total hostility and invective and no sense whatsoever of foregiveness or even an admission that this man has shown real remorse for his actions. Now, he and his family can just sit there and ask in the future, "will making amends for the wrongs I have done help me or hurt me?" The answer, thanks to people like Seccuro, is never confess and never show remorse -- admit to to absolutely nothing -- and no good deed will go unpunished. Keep that in mind the next time you think about doing the right thing. Seccuro attracts zero sympathy and exudes a complete role reversal when it comes to victimhood in this case.

John T. said...

I find this to be most a most interesting issue. I saw the MSNBC program today on rerun.

I think I agree with the following assertion presented above:

1. Beebe was sincere in his original apology, but obviously was apprehensive about jail time. His idea of making amends was probably naive and did not include incarceration. When presented with criminal charges, he modified his behavior understandably faced with prison risk - acts that some here have used to question his original sincerity.
2. His act of apology - while sincere - was extremely selfish and narcissistic. He should have thought through what consequences there would be for Securro. He should have considered if the apology would have any value for her.
3. Securro needs to get past this whole thing. Not to diminish what happenned to her, but many have endured much more severe hardship and eventually gotten their lives back on track. Victimology is similarly selfish and narcissistic when others depend on you. She has chosen this approach unfortunately.
4. Perhaps the TV show has over-dramatized Securro's sense of victimhood for the sake of the narrative...so my comment above is conditional, since I do not know the woman.
5. Once Securro called the police, I am sure a TON of people acted to egg on her rage, etc. to carry out their agendas.
6. Securro and Beebe are both very weak people.

I just kept wondering what would have happened if she had just forgiven him and taken no action. No police, no courts, no media, just private people setting things right between themselves. Couldn't she have thought of anything else besides the police? I can right now.

I was thinking that would be the world I would want to live in. I was hoping that I could have the strength to do that. I was also thinking that was how maybe things used to be long ago...

Charlie said...

William Beeb's actions and behavior strike me as someone who is selfish and narcissistic: who wanted forgiveness without actually owning up to his crime, using alcohol as an excuse and lamant on the sorry state of his life. Seccuro was absolutely right to do what she did; Beeb wasn't owning up to his crime and appear to act out of self pity rather than sincere remorse.

Best case scenario is that he felt so guilty that after 20 years he convinced himself he hadn't actually raped Seccuro that badly and hence that ridiculous claim of "I convinced you" and "gentlemanly effort". He clearly wasn't taking full accountability when he went after Seccuro for his forgiveness just so he can feel all better about himself and relieve some of the pressure of a guilty knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Although I do not call rape a youthful indiscression, I do believe that Mr Beebee's recollection of that evening is more believable then Ms Seccura. I find her to be malicious, vindictive, and a liar. She says she has a kind and forgiving heart but that is clearly not the case. She immediately upon receiving that letter, set out to extract revenge. She had a good life and got on with her life. She jumped at the opportunity for revenge. A previous poster stated that Ms Seccura is responsible for her own healing, not only that, she also bears personal responsibility for what happened that night. She was neligent in taking a drink that she did not see prepared and knew not what the contents where. She allowed herself to be separated from her friend rather then keeping herself safe at all times. Yes, she too has a role in the events of that evening. She is so busy playing the poor me, I never got over it card, that she fails to look at her own role in the matter and how she put herself in that position. What vengence will she demand of herself? PS If you watched the Dateline special and read the articles online about this case you would know that the annonymous poster on this site is NOT Liz as she did not contact the police because she was frightend or afraid. She did it for vengence pure and simple, it is what it is and she should be as brave as he was and stand up and call it what it is.

sandra said...

I saw the repeated broadcast of MSNBC's program the other night. First of all, Ms. Securro had every right to report the rape as a crime. And that alone would not be problematic. However, it is sad that she chooses to be so vindictive and unforgiving. No matter what she said out of political correctness (forgiveness is still politically correct) she has not forgiven him. Her actions say otherwise --continuing to call into question the sincerity of his apologies. And saying that his letter of apology was like being attacked again. This is a woman who after receiving the letter initiated a lengthy e-mail discourse with him that she didn't have to do if just the recall of the event hurt her. And now she's doing public speaking on the issue of rape. This is from a woman who allegedly got freaked out by an apology? No way. That's disingenous. Maybe Beebe should serve a little jail time. I think he'll be the better after it and maybe finally put it all behind him. Liz Securro, on the other hand, probably will never.

Anonymous said...

To Rachel:
I could not have said it better myself. While I agree also with Rose that it is important for Liz to try and let go of the anger and heal. Sometimes when you are raped it is extremely hard to get over and sometimes even when you do deal with it or come to terms with it, it will still have an impact on your life. Liz Seccuro has every right to be angry and mabye seeing Mr. Beebe go to prison will give her some solice, but it is also more about her and how she handle it or copes.

I was also raped and think it is great he is paying for his crime and your bravery is to be commended for also stopping him from hurting someone else. Liz you are not alone, there are more of us out there than you will ever know. Most of us have never had the pleasure of seeing the guy who raped us pay for what he did.

This is not about alcohol. This is about a man who decided he had the right and power to hurt someone. I can't believe people excuse him. Do these same people also excuse bank robbers who kill someone so long as their drunk at the time?

Well, every dog has his day.

Anonymous said...

Both Pat and Dave make good points about how to handle Step Nine. As a recovering alcoholic, I know that Step Nine is an extremely dangerous step. Not everyone is nice (not referring to Ms. Seccuro here), and not everyone's going to shake it off. In fact, some people will take advantage of you.

Sometimes the answer is to do indirect amends or anonymous amends ... or waiting for the Higher Power to put that person in your path.

It's a difficult and dangerous step, and I would advise someone to seek professional counseling or a very wise AA member before attempting it.

Overall, some aspects of this case has truly puzzled me. I'm still thinking about it.

One thing that bugged me is the implication that because Mr. Beebe hired a lawyer and defended himself in court, he somehow wasn't serious about Step Nine.

Step Nine is not to be conducted in adversarial circumstances before a judge and jury, such in our adversary-based system of justice. He has every right to a defense once Ms. Seccuro decided to take their private emails, clearly initiated for the purposes of private reconciliation, and go to the police with them. That's an act of serious bad faith on her part, and a horrible betrayal of his trust.

And now she gets to be a professional victim. There's something wrong with that ... and as apparently signed with a speaking agency. Oh dear.

Yet, Mr. Beebe, not Ms. Seccuro, set these actions in motion, both in damaging her the first time and the second time.

I dunno. It's a bit of a puzzle. People are fallible, I suppose.

Cheers,

Bill the former drunk

Anonymous said...

He felt badly about what happened, so she has him charged. He was 19 years old.

It would mean a lot to some women to have someone apologize and take responsibility for something that happened to them.

Now because of her "brave" story, some of those women will never receive apologies, for fear they may react like Liz did.

Twenty years after it happened, and he's sorry. So she files charges against him. He was 19 years old.

Mr. Beebe is a stand up person. I'm not terribly impressed with the woman.

How many women would have deeply appreciated an expression of remorse for what happened?

Some of them will never get them now because of what she did.

And now she has created her entire persona off of her victimhood. Some folks eat that stuff up. I don't.

I'm sorry she was raped, but he was a 19 year old kid. Kind of ridiculous that she would act that way.