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A Letter from a Prosecutor to a Young Woman

Dear Elizabeth:

I don’t see what more you could have done.

As you well know, reporting sexual assault is a remarkably difficult act.  It is deeply emotional, terrifying for many reasons, unpredictable and often thankless.  You may not have known while you were alive that the great majority of sexual violence is simply never reported to authorities.  But you did report it, quickly and comprehensively.  I’m in awe of your courage.

I can only imagine how difficult it was for you in particular, Lizzy.  You were a 19 year-old college freshman who had struggled with depression; a lovely young woman who had just started studies again after a difficult first year.  But you made it to St. Mary’s, an excellent, close-knit school and one situated along with Notre Dame in the heartland of Catholic education.  Arriving in this environment from a strong Catholic background must have been an incredible and hard-won joy for you.

But I’m sure it also made it infinitely more difficult to come forward and report what happened on the night of August 31.  Being sexually assaulted at a place like Notre Dame and by a member of its football team- the very beating heart of the school for many- is an act that would have silenced most.  Few things are more difficult to come to terms with than being attacked in a dorm room by a football player on one of the most venerated sports campuses in the world. The idea of telling anyone must have been horrific, especially as you were just settling into a new school, a new semester, a new season of hope.  I’ve spent a career learning how hopes like that can be destroyed in the space of moments, and it never gets easier to hear.

Still, you faced down your fears and took action.  You told your friends and wrote down what happened that very night.  You went to campus police the next day.  Despite the fear of being portrayed as God-knows-what and the fury that might rain down on you for reporting against a football player, you reported anyway.  Despite the discomfort of an invasive physical examination, you endured one.  Despite the fear and exhaustion that comes with entering counseling in order to fully recover from such an attack, you did that, too.  You did everything that could possibly have been asked of you.

That’s why I’m trying to understand why Notre Dame, the world-class, excellent institution where you were attacked, has reacted the way it has.  I don’t know why campus police didn’t turn over a case file to the St. Joseph’s County prosecutor’s office until just several days ago- after your case became national news and your hometown paper began demanding answers. Nor do I understand what’s behind the school’s refusal to release police records regarding what they know about what happened to you- even to your parents.

Finally, and most disturbingly, I don’t know 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 otherwise, his privilege to play football isn’t in any way related to his legal rights as a citizen.  The fact is, you reported swiftly and completely a serious crime to the proper authorities that control his ability to play, and you followed through with evidence collection, counseling and cooperation.  Yet still they have chosen to refuse to even acknowledge your complaint, let alone bar him from playing at least until the investigation is completed.  This despite your death.  Coach Kelly won’t state whether he’s even spoken to the player you identified.  He’s quick to remind us that he stresses respect for women in his program, is a father himself, and wants “the right kind of guys” on his team.  Well, the player hasn’t been benched in three months; from this we can fairly deduce that Coach Kelly supports him as someone who is “the right kind of guy” and worthy of wearing the uniform.  If that’s so, why won’t he give his reasons?

The sad fact is there’s an ocean of ignorance out there regarding what happened to you, Lizzy.  Many who are watching the case unfold are repeating over and over again the meaningless mantra that that we must all “Remember Duke Lacrosse.”  It’s because many believe, with nothing to back it up, that women regularly accuse men falsely of sexual assault, and especially athletes.  They’re happy to extrapolate one example of a false accusation to every possible situation, despite the mountain of evidence suggesting that women just like you endure what you endured day in and day out, usually in numbed silence.

Even worse, some just don’t think that sexual assault is nearly as important as college athletics, and they’ll sacrifice the vindication of a budding, brilliant life like yours in a flurry of nonsense that will trivialize your suffering and ruthlessly twist reality.  They’ll call it regret.  They’ll call it a misunderstanding.  They’ll call it anything but what it is, and they’ll ensconce and defend the man who did it so he can simply do it again.  So even the prompt, thorough complaint you made and the investigation you participated in until your death wasn’t enough to bench a football player for a few games until some evidence came to light, one way or another.

But as you know, there are also wonderful people both at Notre Dame and at St. Mary’s.  Both are beloved, respected schools for a reason, and I know you felt and still feel that.  To the heroic staff from St. Mary’s Belles Against Violence who worked with you and actually found you before you died, I hope you smile on them from where you are and bless their work.

I believe in a loving God, Lizzy.  Although I’m a Catholic as you are I don’t believe He punishes those tortured enough to take their own lives, and I’m confident that you’ve reached a plane of existence that will give you not only blessed relief but also infinite understanding.  So I guess this letter is more for me than for you; you have the answers now.

Still, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I didn’t know you in this life, and for what it’s worth l would have been honored to work with you to see the case against your attacker proven.  I would have had much to go on, given the dedication you showed to pursuing justice and the courage you summoned to do what most of us wouldn’t have dared.  Thank you.



  1. Eileen Allen says:

    Moved to tears…once again you have shed light on what remains today the dark secret that is sexual violence in America. We have come far but still have a terribly long way to go.

  2. Thanks, Gaines, and Eileen, for commenting. I don’t know why this kind of thing surprises me anymore, but it continues to. Maybe that’s a good thing. This young woman’s story in particular was stunningly said. She had re-built her life just to have it crushed again. Hard to believe.

  3. Lopez says:

    Footnote: the alleged assailant can’t be benched or otherwise
    dropped from the program because that would publicly
    identify him before he is charged with a crime. And while
    that might be a violation of FERPA, it would certainly be
    a violation of his right to privacy (as well as possibly
    lead to a media frenzy–which would stain his reputation
    forever if he is innocent; and might taint a jury pool).

  4. Thanks very much for the comment. I looked into the FERPA issue actually. I’ve heard FERPA referred to as a reason that ND can’t or won’t release information on the case. As you note (I believe that is what you meant) it is NOT a violation of FERPA to release things like police records- these are considered exceptions to protected educational information under FERPA. For the most part, ND has simply stated that, as a private institution, it is not bound by the public information law that schools like IU are subject to. They’re not releasing what they know about this case, as far as I can tell, because they don’t want to.

    Respectfully, the alleged assailant’s “right to privacy” is not a strict legal right that trumps all other concerns once a complaint of sexual assault is made against him. I know the rejoinder: “But wait- any woman can accuse any guy at any time and send his life into a tailspin over nothing!” This fear is wide-spread but frankly irrational. It presupposes 1) that it’s easy, attractive and rewarding to make false allegations and 2) that it happens all the time regardless. The facts are that it is remarkably difficult and also rare to report a sex crime, let alone to report one falsely, and that sex crimes are reported falsely no more than any other type of crime. In this case, Ms. Seeberg made a prompt and thorough complaint, and followed up with all investigatory and treatment procedures. There is simply no reason to believe that her complaint isn’t valid at the outset, at least from the admittedly limited information I have. Of course this doesn’t mean the alleged assailant is guilty, and I agree that his legal rights need to be protected as the investigation continues. He can and should be presumed innocent for the purposes of the criminal law. But his privilege to play football and enjoy other aspects of college life, particularly when they reflect directly on the college’s reputation, are quite separate. The college has, in my view not only the right but the duty to protect its integrity and to telegraph the proper response to sexual assault when one its own is accused in the manner that this player has been accused.

    Think about it- what if the football player in question had been accused of a serious assault or street robbery? What if, instead of a sexual assault complaint, a person had identified him to the police in a formal investigation as someone who robbed her (or him) at knifepoint or struck her or him with his fist in a parking lot? My guess is he’d be benched immediately while the investigation played out. That’s what should have happened here. The fact that he’s identified by the act of benching him does not mean he can’t or shouldn’t be benched. I’m sorry, but he has been accused of a serious crime. If, after the investigation, it appears that he can’t be charged with a crime, then life goes on. Yes, he is arguably tainted, but that’s how the criminal process works, and he is hardly the first or last person who has been suspected of a crime (any crime) and was later released as a suspect because of further investigation. And contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of people are never completely cleared of crimes- rather they are not prosecuted because (appropriately) there is no legal case against them. And of course, no court ever finds a person “innocent.” It just doesn’t happen that way.

    As for the jury issue, I’m not moved by that argument. If the case were to go to trial, jurors would be sought out who either didn’t know who the guy was or what the facts were. And good lawyers and judges are very good at weeding out jurors with preconceived notions or too much knowledge about the case to begin with. Cases with much more press than this one are tried every day by jurors who are sufficiently ignorant of the facts.

    Again, thank you for joining the conversation- happy to hear your thoughts anytime.

  5. Pilar says:

    Dear Roger:
    This was a powerful letter and becoming from a man it is more meaningful to me. Thanks so much for being a strong man with kindness heart.
    I am Latina and there is so much to do in my country to change the minds of many men who think women are housewives, mothers and don’t have other important role.
    I am a survivor and thanks to you and other AMAZING people finally I could speak out and didn’t feel ashamed for what happened to me. It was not my fault.
    Because of people like you, I feel protected, I feel secure, I don’t feel alone.
    Thank you for your letter I will keep it in my heart for ever.
    God blessed you

    Your secret admired,


  6. SurvivorNotVictim says:

    I was reduced to tears but not rendered speechless as I read this letter…what a devastating loss for this young woman’s family. She was my daughter’s age and so brave like my daughter. What she endured was horrendous enough but to have all of her strength and courage so completely disregarded–DESPICABLE. As a rape survivor who never reported what happened to me, I know all too well what this precious girl endured and its precisely why I never came forward. I didn’t want anyone else to get the chance to strip me of my dignity, only to have the original perpetrator walk free. Sadly, years later my daughter became a victim at the hands of my former husband but she was much more courageous than I was–disclosing her abuse in an effort to keep him from abusing anyone else. I stood in awe in the courtroom on the day of his sentencing listening to my daughter read her victim impact statement … he was held responsible, she was vindicated and I pray the day comes soon when she moves from victim to survivor in her recovery. Lizzy will never see that type of justice here on earth but there’s a greater Judgment Day awaiting this monster and I prayerfully hope that is a comfort to her family. Thank you Roger from the bottom of my heart for your efforts on behalf of crime victims and for your perspective on these crimes. May God continue to bless you and your work.

  7. Thanks so much for your comment. I’m glad your daughter was able to see justice through; I hope she’s on the road to a complete recovery. It sounds like with in her life she’ll be just fine. And I don’t blame you at all for not coming forward- there are very sound reasons why most people still don’t, and things are better now (somewhat) than they used to be. The important thing is that you survived- congratulations, thank God, and thanks for your insight.

  8. Thank you Pilar, and I’m glad you were able to speak up at last. There is much work to be done on this issue in all countries, I know. I’m so glad you feel protected and secure, and you are most certainly never alone. Roger

  9. Mar says:

    Nice letter but the reality is most DA’s are elected officials and allow cases to get botched because they know these types of rapes are hard to prove. Until laws are changed and special crimes units are called in for the victim immediately woman are going to continue to suffer in silence

  10. I couldn’t agree more- thank you for pointing that out. Yes, most DA’s are elected, and those that worry about conviction rates will indeed shy away from these cases. I wrote about exactly such a case in this space (one that fell to Ken Buck, the elected DA in Greeley, CO). I was lucky to have worked for two elected DA’s in separate states over the years who cared much more about doing justice than winning, but that’s not always the case.

    SVU’s have added great value to investigations in recent years, and I agree that they need to be mobilized faster. I have no idea why this case languished the way it did after the report was made- I’m hoping that outcry like ours helps get to the bottom of it.

    Thanks for joining the conversation-

  11. Carleen from Aus says:

    Dear Roger

    Thank you for sharing this letter with us, and for caring about the vicitms. Many survivors of rape and sexual assault are avid fans of Law & Order SVU because of the caring nature shown by the characters. It is nice to know that such care is also shown in real life.

    I am astounded that a college or university can effectively ignore crimes of this nature. Obviously your criminal justice system is very different to ours. But for campus police to not hand the file over to regular police seems to me to be a way for educational institutions to keep quiet crimes of this nature on their grounds and by their students.

    It saddens me that rape and sexual assault victims are still treated so shabbily. Victims of muggings aren’t blamed because they carry a purse or wallet, yet rape victims are still vilified for the clothes they wear. Victims of assults with weapons aren’t asked why they didn’t scream of fight back, but rape victims are still expected to do so, regardless of the circumstances. Surely it is time that we, as a society, stopped blaming rape victims for crimes that were committed against them and put the responsibility where it lies – on the perpetrator.

    Again, thank you for sharing the letter. I hope that Elizabeth’s family are able to take strength in the fact that they had a brave and amazing daugther.

  12. Shannon says:

    Thanks, Roger. I, too, am so amazed by Lizzy’s bravery. I was raped at 16 and couldn’t dream of reporting the assault to law enforcement, medical professional, even my friends or family. If this young man had been accused of any other crime, the school would probably be more likely to address the accusation. You are right on that rape and other sexual offenses are not treated like the truly violent crimes that they are. Victims are scrutinized and held responsible for the actions of the perpetrators. The problem is magnified on college campuses. I am ashamed of Notre Dame. I lived in Indiana at the time of my rape. I was a Catholic teen. I was very much like Lizzy. I nearly didn’t survive the aftermath of my rape. God bless Lizzy. The world is a sadder place without her in it.

  13. Michelle says:

    Thank you Roger and all for these important comments and the impressive letter. As a victim and a survivor who did report and found some justice (not as much as I would have liked) I find the message you have sent here an important one and one that I am working to carry forward. I am 20 years post assault and have found that persons such as yourself have helped lead me to where I am now… an empowered woman with strong convictions and a small impact on others during the post sexual assault exam (I do some work as a SART nurse). Each of us has the ability to make a small impact on someone such as this young woman who suffered so. Each of these little impacts converge to empower or take away from the individual. I am proud of where I am and it is much due to little moments that have allowed me to empower myself and share what I can to bring the power back to each of us in trying times. Thank you!

  14. Christina Taylor says:

    Wow, Roger, what a moving, powerful letter to someone you didn’t even know. Kudos to you for taking the time to show respect and understanding for Lizzy. It is so sad that there is such a lack of respect for other human beings and that those that lack that respect are not punished swiftly! Thank you for continuing to shed the light! 🙂

  15. Thanks, Christine, for joining the conversation. I’m sad that I didn’t know Lizzy in this life, but her actions and great heart merit all the respect and understanding I can muster. I just wish she was still here.

  16. I agree, Shannon- the world is a sadder place without her in it. Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry for what you endured. Remember, though- survival is what matters. Whether someone can report is dependent on many, many things- often out of the person’s control. You survived, and that is all that matters. I’m grateful that you did. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  17. Carleen, it sounds like you Aussies are way ahead of us. I would love to visit Australia and hope to do so some day, either personally or professionally. Colleges and universities over here are slowly getting better at dealing with on-campus sexual assault, but there is still tremendous push-back. Many schools want to downplay rape on campus so as not to lose ranking, applications, a reputation for ‘safety’, etc. It’s sad.

    Also, I could not agree more- we don’t judge or look suspiciously at victims of almost any other crime. And yet we scrutinize sex crimes as they were all false. It’s crazy.

    Finally, I hope and pray you’re right- that Elizabeth’s family will find strength and peace in the life she lived, and lived well. Thank you for joining the conversation from so far away- please stay in touch.

  18. Detective says:

    I am a Sex Crimes Detective for a major metropolitan police department. I have investigated hundreds of sexual assaults and agree with your summation of the difficulties victims encounter. The problem with your conclusion regarding the Universities alleged poor handling of the situation is it is based on limited and unreliable information. Look no farther than the recent article written in the Chicago Tribune. That article was full of mis-information. As a prosecutor it is unfortunate that you have formed an opinion based on knowing so little. You are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about victims of sex crimes. I share many of your feelings and frustrations but as a fact finder I don’t understand how you can draw a conclusion from so little information. Recently, it was revealed that NDPD did consult the local SVU very early in the investigation. No doubt that something is up with this case but there are other plausible considerations. What if the University Police have information that would be damaging to the young ladies reputation? I’m not necessarly talking about “412” evidence but information that directly relates to the night the incident happened. This young lady had emotional problems and the University would have looked very insensitive exposing negative information about her. Maybe sitting on the case wasn’t the best approach but to assume it was to protect the player isn’t consistent with recent events. Several ND players have been arrested around campus without any attempts to cover the incidents. What if the suspect had a solid alibi and no DNA was recovered from the exam? What if video from the entrance to the dorm does not show the victim ever being in the building? You say you would of had “much to go on” but I just don’t see it. If this case was simply an issue of consent then what evidence would you have? DNA collection would be moot. Have you seen the medical records? Were there injuries? Roger, as a prosecutor you have a responsibility to be impartial and you clearly are not. As a detective I deal in facts, not sensational information put out by profit driven media outlets. Unfortunately sexual assault victims have their credibilty challenged like no other. Our cases generally do not have eye witnesses or great direct evidence. The idea of being raped is far more than most people can comprehend therefore it is easier to doubt its very existence. I think you should be proud of your work as an advocate for victims but you might want to consider that when an Officer of the Court draws conclusions based on limited information it only contributes to the problem victims face.

  19. Michael says:


    “If this case was simply an issue of consent then what evidence would you have?”. Really????

    Is your argument that maybe she asked for it and then had buyer’s remorse?

    As a Sex Crimes Detective for a major metropolitan police department, you appear to be unsympathetic to the victim.

  20. Meg says:


    Thank you so much for speaking up for survivors. As a 16 year survivor, I am so sad to hear about this sad, sad turn of events in this case. This trauma that happens to women, and men, I may add, takes away the heart and soul of individuals . I cry every night for the victims that will suffer at the hands of men who rape. Until our society deals with this major social problem, it is not going to go away. I find it demoralizing and egregious that Notre Dame let this football player participate in football games until an investigation was completed. But, we see this scenario far too often in our society.

  21. Meg says:

    I also want to ask you a question. I would like to help in the fight against acquaintance rape and would like to get ideas as to how best to get involved. any suggestions?

  22. April says:


    I just don’t even know what to say. Everything you said in your letter is what rape survivors need to hear. I only wish Lizzy had the opportunity to read it.

    Reporting a sexual assault is a difficult process, possibly even more difficult than the assault itself. Having to tell the story over and over, being poked and scraped and photographed in the emergency room, meeting with investigators and having to relive and write out all of the details…and then to have people judge you, accuse you of lying, protect the assailant… it’s horrible. I started the process but couldn’t go through it. Like Lizzy, I was suicidal but luckily the first police officers that I spoke with recognized it and I was kept in the hospital.

    The idea of going to court it was made me drop the ball on the process. I knew it was going to come down to he said/she said. I knew my mental health and my sexual history would become the focus. I knew it would feel like I was the one being prosecuted. I couldn’t do it. And I am a pretty strong person…except when it came to this.

    I received some nasty comments from people. My now-ex-boyfriend told everyone – his family, his new girlfriend, even people he had just met on Facebook – that I was lying about it. I dropped a few friends after they chastised me for not pressing charges, implying that I was to blame if he did this to someone else. And the rapist? No one said a word to him. Except for me. I confronted him. He admitted to it. But when he found out I had spoken to police, he basically said he would deny it and tell them I consented. How could I prove otherwise? The law seems to be on their side.

    Anyway, your letter had me in tears. I wish there were more people, especially those in a position to do something, who felt this way.

  23. Thanks, Detective, for your comment. I very much appreciate your perspective and welcome you to the conversation. Let me address your points briefly:

    First of all, from a legal standpoint I disagree with your opinion that a prosecutor must be “impartial.” Prosecutors are not impartial- they can be, as law enforcement officers can be- advocates for the guilt of the accused in a charged case. They must be fair and meticulously ethical; on that I agree completely. But they are not impartial. Judges and jurors are impartial.

    Secondly, what I understand is that, perhaps, NDPD reached out to a St. Joseph’s County detective to mention the allegation, but that the detective didn’t consider it relevant to the investigation of her death. That is very different from involving the SJC SVU on the case. If that happened- actual contact and collaboration with St Joe’s SVU, it seemed like news to the DA there, Michael Dvorak when he announced around Nov 22 that he had received a file from NDPD the week of Nov 15 at the earliest. He didn’t mention any prior contact. If there is conflicting information I welcome evidence of it, but I wrote based on Mr. Dvorak’s own statement as a DA, and I think it was a reliable source.

    Thirdly, there may be valid reasons for what ND has done in refusing to release any information on the case, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that. I actually chose my words carefully here- I never stated nor do I necessarily believe that ND has sat on this case and kept it under wraps simply in order to protect its football player or program. But a neutral observer would have to admit that it certainly could appear that way. It’s not only that ND won’t reveal facts about the case. It’s also that ND never asked this player to sit out a single game despite almost certainly knowing about the allegation. I’m sorry, but I think that’s unreasonable unless the allegation was so clearly and remarkably fatuous that it didn’t merit investigation, and that is obviously not the case- a huge file has apparently been turned over (finally) to Mr. Dvorak.

    Fourthly, I concede completely that I don’t have the facts necessary to determine whether or not I could actually prosecute this case, particular in a jurisdiction I’m unfamiliar with. I’m going on what I know about it, though, and what I know about the nature of sexual violence and the dynamics associated with it. I have not judged this player guilty to any strict legal standard- I would never do that with the knowledge I have and I’m certainly not suggesting that others should either. But if you want to know right now whether or not I believe that a sexual assault happened? I do. Here’s why:

    -Lizzy Seeberg reported what she reported to friends immediately and wrote down what she experienced that night.

    -She reported to police the very next day, and (as I’ve mentioned) underwent everything asked of her from an investigatory standpoint. She entered counseling and she was cooperating.

    -She had no motive to lie about this crime that I can see (granted, I could be surprised, but I’ll wait for that). In fact, reporting an assault like this one would likely have been the very last thing a woman in her position would have wanted do. The fact is, she had everything to lose and zero to gain from reporting this incident.

    -Most sexual assault allegations are valid. Around 90% of them are valid, in fact, and I have no reason to simply believe that this one is different. No information has surfaced to suggest that Ms. Seeberg was delusional; she was suffering from anxiety and depression, not a disconnect from reality, at least as far as has been revealed.

    Of course I could be wrong about the guilt of the person she accused and/or about Lizzy herself. But, I saw no recklessness in writing based on what I know. And again, I’m not declaring the accused player legally guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I do believe, however, that he should have been benched pending the outcome of this case. Regardless of what ND has done right in the past with regard to arrested players (and I’m sure they have done right) they don’t appear to have done right in this case. The idea that this young man, whomever he is, can’t possibly be suspended when a thorough, complete report (along with physical exam, etc) has been made against him (formally- to NDPD) is beyond me. Playing football is not a civil right- it’s a privilege. It’s one that can and should be at least temporarily suspended when a person attracts a serious and formal legal allegation against him.

    As for whether I could have “won” this case? Who knows, but I can tell you that I surely would not have given up for lack of injury or DNA. I’m sure you know as a sex crimes detective that most cases don’t yield such evidence. We as sex crimes DA’s don’t win cases with DNA and CSI wizardry if we’re truly good. Those cases plead. We win cases by re-creating the reality of the crime for jurors, crafting careful direct and cross exams, shaping themes and weaving them through the entire case, corroborating evidence creatively with the help of great detectives like you, working with advocates to keep our victims strong and informed, and stressing things like the obvious- Lizzy had no apparent motive to lie, she reported quickly and thoroughly, etc, etc. (It should be noted here that delayed reports, as I’m sure you know, are very common in non-stranger sexual assaults, and they don’t mean that no assault occurred. But in this case, even an understandable delay due to fear, uncertainty, social pressure, etc, didn’t happen.)

    Ultimately, of course I don’t know what a legal outcome would be. But unless I’m surprised- and I’m always prepared to be- this was a valid and winnable case, and I would have taken it willingly.

    Again, detective, thank you for your comment and please feel free to respond or add more as you see fit. Thank you very much for your dedication to these cases and your service to victims.

  24. Thanks for your comment, Michael. In fairness, I think he might just be expressing what many people in my business express, namely an aversion to cases that appear to be “he said, she said.” I hate the term, but it’s out there. Cases where consent is the issue and no witnesses exist to the actual event are difficult. And they are common. But they can be won- and I have worked with phenomenal DA’s like Bridget Ryan, Teresa Scalzo and Jennifer Long (who I originally met at the Nat’l DA’s Association) who have developed entire curricula on winning cases where consent is the issue and the case has to be proven on testimony and good arguments. It can happen- but it’s tough, and many ADAs and detectives shy away from cases like that. I’m suggesting that the detective who comments does or doesn’t- I don’t know him. Just pointing out what I’ve seen- and we’re trying to change that.

  25. Thanks for your comment, Meg. One immediate idea that comes to mind is to reach out to your local women’s shelter, rape crisis center, your community’s office on women or women’s issues (if they have one) and see if you can volunteer or contribute. I think it’s always great to start locally, and there is plenty of need at the local level. Also, every state has a state coalition against sexual assault. You can google yours and contact them as well. Thanks and good luck!

  26. Thanks for sharing that account, April, and please accept my deepest sympathy for what you went through. The fact is, the only thing you needed to do was survive that attack. You did survive it, and that’s all that matters. No one has the right to chastise you for the choices you made- they can’t stand in your shoes and live your life. Congratulations on making it to today- that’s all that matters.

  27. Garrett Burke says:

    If it is proven that it was, in fact, sexual assault, than this piece is full of great points and serves a valuable purpose.

    Up until then, you are assuming a lot about a very serious topic. You are criticizing a religion, an institution, and countless people. One of which is a young man that may be innocent. This piece gets readers emotionally involved on a premise that is not proven. Nothing you have written is justified in this particular case, and the negative perception that you, and everybody that has positively commented on this piece, feels towards the noted groups involved is entirely unwarranted and unfair.

    Yes, this is a very serious and sad matter, but to place blame and judgment on anybody at this point – especially from our point-of-view which lacks many crucial facts – is plain wrong.

  28. Mixed Emotions says:

    I’m hesitant to publicly comment, but I wanted to thank you for writing your letter re: Elizabeth. Very often I read your posts, nodding my head in agreement. This was not the case while reading your letter. I’ve never felt more challenged reading an opinion. My background as an ND alumnae, assault survivor, and working in sports all converge to create a very confusing thought-process. I want to protect the institution I love, the football program I support – but this directly conflicts with supporting Lizzy and others like her.
    You see, when I was studying abroad in an ND program, I was assaulted in a club when separated from my friends. Like Lizzy, I was assaulted, but not raped. Like Lizzy, I told a (female) school official. I was blown off (“Thanks for letting us know, we’ll make sure the next group of students who come through are warned more firmly of these kinds of things”). Those I shared the incident with didn’t believe me, or said “at least I wasn’t raped.” What they didn’t know is that it still affected me as if I had been raped. I didn’t sleep at night. There were too many windows that provided easy entry (didn’t matter that it wasn’t rational since we weren’t on the first floor). They didn’t know that the reason I drank every night wasn’t because I was getting the most out of my abroad experience – it was because I didn’t fear the city at night when I couldn’t see it clearly. Thankfully, when I came back to the states, that helped. Back home, I was safe.
    I offered to share my story with students preparing to study abroad. It was my understanding that the future participants (maybe just the female ones) were given a presentation by females who had been assaulted abroad. My offer was never acknowledged. To this day, I still don’t think anyone ever believed me. It was so easy to reason it away because I had been drinking, it was dark, and it didn’t escalate to a full rape. All this and I still find myself wanted to defend ND. This makes me angry at myself. It also makes me thankful to have posts like yours that force me to confront the irrational and blind devotion to an institution that did a young woman wrong. Thank you for being a voice for Lizzy when those of us who are misguided fail.

  29. Thanks for your comment, Garrett. Respectfully, we’ll have to agree to disagree on my intent and on the validity of what I stated. I don’t believe I leveled any criticism against the Church, nor did I mean to do so. I did state that I don’t agree with a piece of Catholic doctrine; it is one that, frankly, I’ve heard less and less in recent years and one that several priests I know and love don’t agree with. Otherwise, I did not implicate religion and certainly was not attempting to be critical of Catholicism.

    I have criticized a great institution- The University of Notre Dame. However, I also stressed that it is a first rate, rightly respected school and that it is (as I truly believe) filled with great people. I love Notre Dame, actually- I have a few very dear friends who are alumni and the biggest, most often worn sweatshirt I have has IRISH on it in huge letters. I’ve been to South Bend for two games and loved everything about the place. That being said, I think ND has not acted correctly this case. Yes, I could be wrong and the allegation could be baseless. But I don’t think the facts at this point bear that out. I’ll admit- I’m writing from what I know now, and I may be proven wrong. But I stand by my criticism of the school for not benching this player given the facts, and I have not heard a satisfactory explanation as to why ND won’t share any information on the case with anyone.

    Finally, I am not in any way criticizing “countless people” unless there are, indeed, countless people who put college athletics before the fate of a young woman who reported a serious crime and then took her own life. I don’t believe that people who feel that way are countless at all. I think they’re a vocal minority, and I certainly believe that about ND, where I’ve met dozens if not more of some of the finest people I know. I am criticizing the decision makers at ND who have allowed things to unfold as they have- that I’ll readily agree to. I stand by that.

    Again, thanks for your comment- I suspect from your e-mail that you’re an alumnus, and I hope I didn’t gratuitously offend you. That was absolutely not my intent.

  30. Thank you for writing, and for sharing that experience. I’m deeply sorry that happened to you, and believe me- I know that an attempted assault can be as unsettling and life-altering as a completed one. I’m glad you survived it- that’s all that matters. And you should be commended for offering to speak to others and help to prevent further harm.

    As I stated earlier, I am absolutely not attempting to “shame” Notre Dame or extrapolate criticism of it on one issue to some broad-based tirade against it. ND is much, much bigger than I am, and it is a great school. I wish it was handling this case differently, that’s all. And God knows I wish it had handled your attack differently. But the fact is, we’re really just now making long strides in understanding and handling sexual assault, especially sexual assault that involves alcohol, non-stranger situations, etc. ND needs to be prodded like all schools do- my hope is that the attention the Chicago Tribune and others are putting on this tragedy will help that process.

    Thank you for your kind sentiments- I have been significantly affected by this case, and I wish it involved a still living Lizzy, whatever she decided to do about reporting or not reporting. Hopefully efforts like ours will lead to less and less accounts like hers.

  31. Scott says:

    Garrett, I’ve been friends with Roger Canaff for going on twenty years now. He is criticizing an institution or at least asking very honest questions about the behavior of people inside it, but there is nothing in there attacking any religion and he is not anti-Catholic. Far from it. He is a practicing Catholic who attends mass more regularly than anyone else I know.

  32. Mixed Emotions says:

    I don’t see your letter as a broad attack on Notre Dame. ND is a great institution that does great things for the ND family and community. I think you’re asking the difficult questions – the questions that those of us with instinctive blind faith are too close to ask. It’s only by asking them that we are able to reconcile the issues, and hold ND to the higher standard that makes me proud to be an alumnae.

  33. Kristin says:


    Your words have really moved me. I come from somewhat similar circumstances – as a freshman in college, a mere 4 years ago, I too was raped by a football player at a division I school. I had a rape kit done, gave my story to both the county and campus police, produced witnesses, and worked with the campus women’s center for further help and support.

    I was called a variety of things by those higher up at the university, given the opportunity to transfer to whatever school I desired, but I stayed. I worked to get my case to court when I was told by the county prosecutor that I should give up while now because my case had no chance.

    I, unfortunately, did give up. The football player got by unscathed and continued to play for the university until he no longer had eligibility.

    Why is it that when all the evidence is there (physical with the rape kit, the accounts of the victim and others, etc.) nothing is done?

    Thank you again for your words. They mean more than you would think.

  34. Detective says:

    I stand corrected re: being impartial. I actually considered better explaining my point on that issue after I read my post. While a prosecutor can (and should) believe in the cases they argue I think they must yield to factual evidence and always be cautious about becoming to emotionally invested. Human emotions cause otherwise well intended people to have tunnel vision. As we have seen in the “duke lacross case”, it only takes one prosecutor to damage thousands of other cases. I recently had the duke case actually came up during a jury voir dire.

    I also acknowledge that there is something very unusual about this case and the way University Police have handled it. I might be blindly defending the Universities decisions without enough facts as well. It makes more sense to me that the victim might have lied during her statement to the University Police and they have clear evidence of that. Unfortunately legitimate sexual assault victims sometimes lie or fail to disclose portions of an incident(especially when the suspect is known). Experienced sex crimes investigators know that this doesn’t mean the person wasn’t assaulted. Most of the time the lie centers around something the victim feels guilty about. Things like intoxication or sexually explicit text or email are often lied about or not disclosed for a variety of reasons. I just have to wonder if the University Police found something along those lines and determined they could not articulate enough probable cause to bring it to the prosecutor. If the University Police report back to the administration their findings I don’t think it is unreasonable for them to allow the player to participate. We might understand that lying about a couple of details doesn’t mean the assault didn’t happen, nor should it end an investigation, but I would argue that it would create enough doubt with most people to stop an investigation in its tracks. Perhaps the University Police are not equiped to handle these types of investigation and some sort of county ordinance might need to be considered.

    I do my best to reset my thought process with every new investigation. I would never indicate doubt when a victim initially reports an incident and investigate the allegation assuming what is reported is accurate. As the investigation progresses I allow the evidence to guide my opinion. Of course, my opinion is pretty fluid during this process. My primary responsibilty is always to the facts. I think too many people get caught up in statistics like “%90 of sexual assault allegations are valid” or the flip side, the duke lacross case. Every case needs to stand on its own and I think we need more facts before passing judgement on how ND administration handled it.

    Finally, thank you for explaining my point to Michael. I never intended to sound unsympathic towards vicitims. I work in sex crimes because it is one of the areas that we have “true victims”. Many other major felony investigation involve one drug dealer robbing or shooting another. Sexual assualt victims ultimately bare no responsibity in their crime. Often they make unsafe or poor decisions but that should never result in such a violation.

  35. JB says:


    I must disagree with your position that the young man should have been benched or kicked from the team on the basis of the complaint. While you are certainly correct that it is not generally advantageous for someone to claim falsely that she has been assaulted, the flaw in punishing based on claims alone is that it could affect future behavior. That is, if one knows that just by making a complaint the accused will suffer consequences, false claims will rise, and this would serve to undermine even further the multitude of valid claims which you correctly believe are not currently treated with appropriate seriousness.

    Even operating under the (I think highly unrealistic) assumption that no woman would ever resort to filing such a false complaint to play out a grudge, the damage would already be done, because the public will recognize that there is an incentive to making false claims, and this would make dismissing assault claims, valid or invalid, that much easier.

    You essentially make note of this problem by referencing the highly publicized case of the Duke players who were punished based on a false complaint, and which is now used by many to question the credibility of assault claims. Making it a policy to punish based on claims would only exacerbate the problem.

  36. Frustrated and angry says:

    Thank you for your letter and excellent replied to posts.

    What appalls me most is that a violent crime was reported to campus police and they did not forward this on to the local authorities to have the perpetrator prosecuted. People need to get over the word “sex” and realize that these assaults are technically violent crimes, as brutal and as dangerous to the public (especially young, college-aged women) as other assaults with deadly or genital weapons. From the victim’s perspective, he could have been beating her insides with the barrel of a gun. There is nothing of natural, pleasurable “sex” about this encounter for her. The “sexual” region of the crime makes it most heinous in that this is the weapon the man chose to use when overpowering and brutally beating his female victim.

    Others have mentioned this before, but if her scars had been outward (e.g. broken arm instead of broken psyche, battered face instead of battered self-worth) and this simply reported as a violent assault, would the college be legally liable for covering it up?

  37. Thanks, Detective- I agree with you completely on just about everything you’ve stated here and I’m grateful for your perspective.

    I do agree that prosecutors need to be mindful of the facts as they unfold, and that they must not lose sight of their role (i.e, the government and community’s representative, not the complainant’s). ADA’s do stand in a position somewhat more objective than police officers and detectives, so I see where you’re coming from.

    You’re entirely correct that, oftentimes, victims lie or only tell partial truths regarding collateral aspects of the case. This is often the result of embarrassment, guilt, fear that the truth will “ruin the case,” etc. One of the challenges for both cops and DA’s in many cases is making sure victims understand the importance of and power of being 100% candid.

    I suppose it’s possible that NDPD investigated the case and made some quick determination that it just wasn’t worthy of being forwarded on for prosecution, but I’m not sure how that would actually play out. I say that because I don’t know what protocols are in place to deal with sexual violence cases, or how much authority NDPD gives itself to make those determinations without consulting the district attorney. In any event, if it were the case that NDPD detected obvious and fatal problems with Ms Seeberg’s report or the case in general, is there some reason ND wouldn’t just say so? Again, I’m not saying your scenario is impossible. It’s important for me to stress again that I am not making an absolute judgment that ND was trying to block or snuff out an investigation in order to protect their football program. I don’t know what their motives are- my point is that the signs are troubling and that they would do well to clarify.

    I’m also trying to keep an open mind, and I’m trying to imagine what would keep the school 100% silent about this case at this late date. I understand, of course, wanting to investigate before jumping to any conclusion. But they seemed to have dragged their feet far too much on getting this case to the DA’s office. And all of this while the accused person, whomever he is, continues to represent the school on the football field.

    Finally, I agree that every case must stand on its own. I only cite the research (and it is validated, methodological research) on false reports because there are so many people out there who believe that rape is falsely reported often, or at very least much more than other violent crimes. Thanks again for your comments- I did not detect that you were being unsympathetic to victims, but more that you were trying to maintain a clear and open mind case by case. That’s commendable.

  38. Thanks for your comment, JB, and for joining the conversation. I understand your argument, but I don’t think experience or research bears it out.

    I do see the theoretical logic in believing that “rewarding” yet-unproven sex assault complaints (i.e., benching the accused) would naturally raise the number of false reports as those who would make them see them succeed. However, this logic is based on underlying assumptions that I think are invalid. First among them, this logic assumes that making the complaint (especially in the matter that Lizzy Seeberg did) is easy or painless enough to be worth enduring for the “payoff” of seeing the falsely accused person suffer. I’d argue that it is not. Again, this isn’t just me spouting; replicated research indicates that most women don’t report VALID complaints. This is because making complaints is terrifying and difficult, particularly in circumstances like Lizzy’s. It’s hard enough to come forward when the complaint is valid. Coming forward- again, especially as thoroughly as Lizzy did- with an invalid complaint is more difficult. Repeating the account over and over again, being examined and re-examined, activating an entire system around oneself- these are exhausting and very, very trying tasks. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. Sexual assault is claimed falsely about as much as other violent crimes, somewhere in the 8-12% range. But there’s no reason to assume that sex assault complaints are made falsely any more than other crimes. In fact, things like insurance fraud and even car theft are probably much more falsely claimed (no one has closely studied it) because they are easier to report falsely and can be very lucrative.

    But back to the main point, I just don’t believe that making false complaints of sexual assault is something that is 1) painless enough to attempt easily and 2) worth the result in almost all cases. I know it’s a universally feared thing, but it just doesn’t happen very often. Quite the opposite, actually- the vast majority of women are clearly sexually assaulted shy from reporting and tell no one. A woman would, believe it or not, much rather (falsely) label herself a slut or an idiot than she would a sexual assault victim.

    Do false reports occur, and do they occur out of some vindictive impulse or pure malevolent intent? Sure. Does that happen often? No. Is the idea of making a false report of sexual violence so tempting (because of a potential fallout from the report) that it’s something we need to fear widely? No.

    I’ll concede this: Not all complaints are of the same initial quality or apparent validity. I don’t have all the facts, but what has been revealed so far suggests that her complaint was complete, timely, and thorough. In my view, absent something I don’t know (because ND won’t say) I believe that benching this player until the case could be fully investigated was merited.

  39. Christine Tioga says:

    Sorry, but the Duke Lacrosse case is a VERY good reason to not kick anyone of the team until he is convicted.

    If you don’t like it, blame Crystal Gail Magnum and Mike Nifong.

  40. Leigh says:

    I had read about this in the news previously, but never from the perspective of someone in the legal field. Elizabeth’s story has truly saddened and moved me, and your passion as a prosecutor and anti-violence advocate is inspiring also. I actually stumbled upon your blog while taking a break from working on my law school applications, and I can only hope that one day I will be speaking for victims with the same passion you have shown for Elizabeth.

  41. Thanks for joining the conversation. Respectfully, I’ll assign blame where it logically and fairly belongs. Ms. Magnum and Mr. Nifong deserve blame for what they did, period. It’s people like you, frankly, who deserve blame for extrapolating this one, isolated and rare case into a pernicious myth that now seeks to define all incidents of sexual violence as something usually made up and always worthy of suspicion.

    The degrading, damaging lie, Ms. Tioga, is that Duke Lacrosse defines anything beyond its own miserable facts.

    Again, thanks for your comment.

  42. Fantastic, Leigh- thanks for joining the conversation. By all means, don’t let anyone discourage you from going to law school. I know it’s a hugely popular sport for lawyers to discourage potential lawyers, but ignore them. You may or may not like law school (my best friend in law school loved it- I hated it, we’re going on 20 years of friendship). But you’ll never regret having a law degree. And if you want to join our ranks as a prosecutor, I’m sure we’d be honored to have you. Good luck.

  43. John says:

    The university has handled the matter very well. I don’t care what the Tribune reports–its reporters are digging for the perfect story, not the truth.
    Investigations take time–weeks, not days.

    Universities are banned from divulging disciplinary records. Coach Kelly cannot ban a player from the team who has not been arrested and accused of a crime.

    You need to research how ND has dealt with cases of rape and sexual assault in the past. It has a remarkable record of seeking justice and assuring the safety of its students.

  44. Thanks for your comment, John. I have no doubt that ND has handled sexual assault complaints well in the past. As I’ve stated, I have great respect for the school and actually consider myself a fan. But respectfully I don’t believe ND has handled this well- at least on the information that’s been revealed. As I’ve stated previously, FERPA is not, in my estimation, a ban on releasing the police records associated with this case. And I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that Coach Kelly is restricted to that degree, but to be fair I am not nearly as knowledgable as I could be. I have heard from professional sports writers that he is NOT as restricted from benching players as you suggest, but I will follow up.

    I tend to believe that everyone (or certainly most everyone) at ND in authority started out with very good intentions. I believe those good intentions faltered greatly when Ms. Seeberg died. Now, I believe the stonewalling is making things worse. If I’m wrong, I’ll admit as much readily.

    Again, thank you for joining the conversation.

  45. Detective says:

    After reading additional posts I have to make sure I haven’t given too much support regarding the idea of false reporting. I think I should explain how rare cases of false reporting can be versus cases that are not prosecuted. The most common false allegations I have investigated are usually motivated by perscription drug seekers and/or severly emotionally disturbed attention seekers. These false accusations almost always involve an unknown suspect wearing a ski mask and occur in places unlikely to have video or witnesses. It is even more rare for a specific person to be falsely accussed. I fully understand Roger’s opinion but I am cautiously optimistic that the University Police have exculpatory evidence and the only mistakes were from a PR perspective. If it is anything less than that I would hope that the governing body that allows the NDPD to have full law enforcement authority would revoke that responsibility. My position only pertains to the assumption that the Adminstration’s decision was based on information provided by the University Police. While I respectfully disagree with Roger that the player should have been suspended from participation, I want to make clear I base that soley on the information that I have seen. The ramifications for a suspension would have life long damaging effects on the accused. If the Adminstration had information that the allegation was likely untrue than it would have been a complete miscarriage of justice to subject the player to public suspicion. Suspending his football participation would not have a single benefit to the ability to invistigate the allegation. It would strickly be a PR move. There could become a time that more information is learned and I would be completely disgusted by the University’s adminstration. Until that time I will give the benefit of doubt to a University that has earned it.

  46. Thanks, Detective, for your insight on false reports- I agree, and I applaud you for pointing out what, in general, the truth is about false reporting rather than the hysteria that surrounds it.

    I’d be very surprised if NDSPD (apparently Notre Dame Security Police Department is the full name) has exculpatory evidence of the kind of that would make this case obviously flawed from the start. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the case looked weak from the perspective of most practitioners. I doubt there was valuable physical or forensic evidence- there usually isn’t. My guess is it was judged a “he said, she said” case and then left to wither once Ms Seeberg passed away. There are plenty of otherwise decent and competent prosecutors and cops who won’t take that kind of a case. I happen to know how to try and win them, at least in some cases, and that’s why- assuming I’m correct- I wish I had been the appropriate person to make the decisions about it. And I would have wanted a first rate, hard working detective, as you seem to be, as well as a great victim advocate to complete the team and build the case.

  47. Why I didn't.... says:

    Lizzy’s story has really been difficult for me to hear because I was in her shoes. It was Valentine’s Day 1998 and it was 3 ND football players that raped me. I had 2 witnesses that I thought were my friends that bailed because they didn’t want to get in trouble for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was told that if I wanted to “do something about this we won’t be your witnesses.” So it was my word against theirs and I had nothing. There wasn’t any evidence-they wore condoms. There wasn’t going to be any damage “down there” because I didn’t fight. These guys were 6 ft. plus 220 plus and I didn’t want to get hurt. Afterward, I started to fight when they pinned me down and said,”we just want to look.” I didn’t know what that meant until later when the counselor called it rape. I ended up hitting my head on a lamp and one of them said,”That’s what you get for fighting.” I didn’t label it rape because I didn’t want it to be rape. But it was.
    The first people I told said they were “jealous” because one of them was so “hot”-I didn’t say anymore to “friends” after that. A week went by and I was out of sorts. Luckily, my best friend told me to talk to a counselor because I was being a B and I wasn’t acting like myself. I didn’t mention the rape until I was walking out of the appt. I was ashamed that I had put myself in such a predicament and I tried to talk myself out of calling it rape but that is what happened. As part of my therapy, the counselor from Saint Mary’s and I went over to ND to talk to a man in resident’s life. I wrote my account on paper and told him what happened. He told me that he was very angry that this had happened to me but unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything from behind his desk. Then he pointed to 2 tall file cabinets and said that he hated to tell me but those file cabinets were filled with accounts just like mine.
    I know that these “trains” (rapes or consensual) occurred when I was going to Saint Mary’s. I heard more than once from guys “I play for Notre Dame.” I don’t really care who they play for. Notre Dame is so wrapped up in money they have forgotten about any kind of rights or values. This poor girl did what was right. I wish that I would have. I know that these guys will get what’s coming to them in due time. I wish that Lizzy could have found some justice. You did what I wished I could have. I hope someone fights for her voice that has been silenced. I think Dvorak needs to pay a visit to resident’s life. Thank you for such an outstanding kick in the pants letter. I pray for peace and comfort for Lizzy’s family. I am sorry for your loss.

  48. Thank you for the comment and I’m terribly sorry for what you went through- the miserable reaction by others included, which for some can be worse.

    I believe this very strongly, having learned it from some of the best women I know, most of them in the business I’m in and with much more credibility: Your only job during a sexual attack is to survive it. You did survive it, and that is all that matters. I commend you for giving credit to Ms. Seeberg for doing what you weren’t able to do at the time, but I hope that no one encourages you to second guess what you did or somehow suggests that you fell short. You did what you had to do, that’s all that matters. You’re still here, and that’s all that matters. Thank you for sharing what happened to you- it’s only through this kind of dialogue that we stand a chance of turning things around.

  49. Kristin- thank you for commenting. You did everything you could have done. The issue has to do with how campus sexual assault is investigated and prosecuted. For the most part, it is sub-standard. Many, even well-intentioned, investigators and DA’s shy away from the vast majority of sexual violence crimes because they seem, to the untrained, to be impossible to prosecute. They are difficult, but they are not impossible. Most cases don’t yield physical or forensic evidence- good sex crimes prosecutors know not to rely on that stuff. Even when that evidence does exist, it is rarely the key to the case.

    The major problem with the investigation of sexual assault in the US is the constant focus on the victim/survivor. Cops and ADA’s ask “why did she do that?” far too often. I’ve seen many, many cases where the DA says “I believe her, but I just wish she hadn’t (drank too much, worn such a crazy dress, danced with him in front of everyone beforehand, fell asleep in his bed, invited him in, etc, etc) Most cases involve women who are voluntarily intoxicated. Some involve women who agreed to some sexual contact but not the attack that followed. Some, but certainly not all, victims are targeted exactly because they either won’t report or won’t be believed if they do. For instance, predatory offenders (and most of them are predatory) will purposely seek out women who are young and inexperienced, or have reputations for being “crazy” or “slutty,” etc. They figure these women either won’t tell anyone or certainly won’t be believed- and often they’re right. Of course, women who are and/or seem completely grounded and “normal” are targeted also. The point is that they are targeted. Most rape is serial rape. Most men who rape are not normally nice guys who just go over the line once in their lives.

    The trick is to turn the focus, as we are now training DA’s to do, on the offender. Rather than ask “why did she do what she did?” the better question is “how did he manipulate the situation, and how did he use whatever it was she did or didn’t do to set his trap and then cover his tracks?”

    Non-stranger sex assault cases are difficult to win, but they are not impossible. It takes patience, teamwork, creativity and a lot of hard work and faith to win them. All I can tell is, we are working on it.

  50. Detective says:

    I often hear (or read) victim advocates suggest that investigators should never ask a “why” question. Some “why” questions are more obvious than others. Example: Instead of asking, “why did you wait to make a report?”, I usually ask, “did you consider calling the police?” However, this can be a very slippery slope into influencing a victim’s statement. Ultimately juries want “why” questions answered. It is always better to get out infront of issues that can damage a case. Sometimes this means we have to ask tough questions. While nothing is more important to a victim than their physical and mental recovery, I am forced to look at a much bigger picture. The bigger picture is not only justice for a specific victim but probably most importantly, protecting a community from a sexual predator. Simply put, we need to build a strong case and ask difficult questions. Defense Attorneys often attack either the victim’s credibility or the investigation itself. In many cases the victim is simply to sympathetic and the best approach is to go after the investigation. A good defense attorney will pick apart a victim interview and make a well intended Detective appear to be eliciting a specific response.
    I understand the psychology behind not asking a victim “why”. I also understand the concept of turning the “focus”. Those tactics seem appropriate for a court room but I don’t know if it can be applied during the investigation phase. I know that most of the trainning you refer to applies to Prosecutors but in many agencies (mine included) most evidence, statements and interaction with the victim occurrs before a Prosecutor even sees a file. Can you direct me to specific research that addresses how to get around these questions or how to ask them in a way the isn’t overly leading?

    Thank you for you thoughts. If this isn’t the appropriate forum to answer my questions, I can email you or send a message via facebook. Please don’t feel obligated to respond if you are too busy. With a little research I can probably find the information on my own.

  51. Detective, thanks for the comment and the interest. This forum is just fine, but you can always reach me offline at [email protected].

    You’re correct that “why” questions need to be answered. Different professionals in the anti-sexual violence field have different opinions, but what I usually teach (I do teach investigators also) is to ask the “why” questions, but just in a way that doesn’t come off as judgmental. You’re correct that, during the investigation stage, tough questions need to be asked. I think just being careful with one’s language and tone can go a long way toward eliminating the appearance of being judgmental while doing so. So as you say, rather than asking something like “why did you invite him” or even “why did you offer to let him use the bathroom at your apartment when he dropped you off?” etc, etc, ask something like “can you tell me what was going through your mind when you invited him in?” or words to that effect. Obviously you want to avoid a “what were you thinking” sounding question, but I think the basic trick is to phrase the question in those terms rather than just a naked “Why?” I also explain carefully to victims why I’m asking what I’m asking. In prep for trial, for instance, I’ll explain very carefully that I’m not asking the questions because I doubt their account, am trying to break them down, or because I think it’s somehow entertaining. I do so because I know (if I know the defense attorney’s style, which I usually do) how she’s going to be confronted on cross.

    If you’re looking for some grounded, passionate but balanced, well-respected and results oriented investigator training and insight, check out http://www.mysati.com/. This website will connect you with a woman I work with at End Violence Against Women (EVAW) named Joanne Archambault who is without a doubt the best investigator-trainer in the US and beyond when it comes to sexual violence. She’s a retired police sergeant from San Diego and ran their PD’s sex crimes unit for the last 10 years of her career. She’s an amazing resource.

  52. Wayne Gooder says:

    Thank you for your article. The more people who read about Elizabeth Seeberg’s story, the more people who can voice their outrage on how this is being handled by the university and especially the D.A..

  53. Escofino says:

    Dear sir –
    I will limit my many many criticims of your work here to just this one:
    Why have you written a letter to Ms. Seeberg? She has died. She will never be able to read your letter.

    I selected this criticism because it highlights the primary theme of most of the rest of my criticisms: that your ‘letter’ is overwrought and pandering. Your choice to write in letter form is, frankly, disgraceful and merely an emotion-plucking tool you’ve chosen to employ. It is written as though you are angling for an invite to Oprah.

    As a prosecutor, surely you should be more aware of the importance of gathering facts before presenting a case. Here, you have read a few short articles and press releases and have leaped into the fray.

  54. Thank you for your comment and for joining the conversation. Please, do not limit your criticism if you wish to write more. I am responsible for what I post, and happy to respond to comments whether positive or negative.

    I can only tell you that I believe, in fact, that Lizzy Seeberg can read the letter I wrote; I believe in an afterlife and I believe she is a part of it. That is a matter of faith; I can’t expect you or anyone else to agree with it if it’s not your inclination to do so. But it’s a belief I hold dear and draw comfort from, and it drove in part the decision to frame this post the way I did. To the extent that the personal tone I chose to take resonates with others, I hope it’s positive. In your case it is not, and while I find that unfortunate, it doesn’t make me second-guess my choice in doing so.

    Respectfully, I was not “presenting a case” in any prosecutorial manner with this blog post. Rather, I was expressing my admiration of this young woman, and also my reasonable belief that she was not served well by the administration of Notre Dame.

    Have I made assumptions? Yes, I have, and I stand by them. I believe that Ms. Seeberg’s complaint was valid, albeit based on what little I know. However, my opinion is far from baseless. It is quite well based in both reason and experience. And, in any event, my context is not a strictly legal one and I am not responsible for bringing charges to the legal standard of the criminal law.

    Again, thanks for commenting.

  55. Captain Obvious says:

    To be honest, I didn’t read your entire letter because as soon as I saw that you were wondering why this player was not benched it became apparent that you are an irrational person. Yes this was a tragedy that she felt the need to take her life, and that she was not better supervised even though she was diagnosed with depression and had clearly been through a traumatic experience.

    However, let us consider the kind of life sentence that comes with a sexual assault allegation. Something like that follows you forever, regardless of whether or not the allegation has an ounce of truth. That being said, suspending this player from the team would be a dead giveaway as to who it is. This man has rights, and one of those rights is that he is innocent until proven guilty. Not only from legal ramifications but from the court of public opinion. Have you learned nothing from the Duke Lacrosse scandal? To suggest that he should be suspended, and thus handed over to the media, due to an allegation is irresponsible and irrational.

  56. I appreciate your honesty, Captain (and thanks for joining the conversation) but if you didn’t read the entire blog post I’m not sure how completely I can address your criticism.

    One one hand you appear to acknowledge that Ms Seeberg did, in fact, suffer a traumatic experience. If so, then why are you intimating that this might be a parallel to the Duke Lacrosse scandal, where apparently no traumatic experience was visited on the complainant by the suspects?

    With regard to the “life sentence” you refer to that comes from a sexual assault allegation, I can only assume that you believe (as many people do, albeit with nothing other than occasional and misleading anecdotal evidence to back it up) that false allegations are as common as rain in Seattle, and that they are regularly ruining lives day in and day out. They’re not. Without a doubt, an accusation against a person is harmful, particularly when it becomes public and/or involves something as odious as sexual assault. But if the accusation is valid (as most are, and as I believe Ms Seeberg’s was) then the fallout is perhaps premature, but not patently unjust.

    I agree completely that every accused has rights that should be protected. It appears that the accused’s rights in this case have been well protected, and that he will not face criminal charges (the DA made the announcement yesterday, I believe). However, his legal rights in the criminal context do not preclude the University, in the face of a thorough and prompt report of sexual assault from a cooperative victim, from benching the player until an investigation can be conducted. I would agree that, if the allegation had been highly suspect from the start, a judgment call could be made by the athletic department, the school, or Coach Kelly, to not bench the player. But this allegation was, to my knowledge at least, not at all highly suspect, and in fact quite compelling on its face. Particularly given that the incident appears to have contributed to the victim’s suicide, I think it merited action on the schools part to say to the player “I’m sorry- no one is assuming you’re responsible for this act until an investigation can be thoroughly completed. However, you have been accused in a thorough and compelling manner, and the complainant has committed suicide. It’s not appropriate for you to represent this school on the football team until the circumstances can be as fully fleshed out as possible.”

    Would an action like that be harmful to the player? Yes. Might it be unjust, and might the complaint be invalid, thus harming him unjustly? Yes. Do people every day face criminal charges and public opprobrium for bad things they didn’t do, and then have to rebuild reputations and goodwill as a result? Yes. It is an imperfect world. But a compelling accusation and the death of the young woman at the center of it add up to “sit out a few games, son” to me. They do not to you, because you appear to assume that false allegations are tossed around all the time- perhaps based on Duke Lacrosse. But Duke Lacrosse is a remarkably isolated incident. Compare it, if you are willing, to how many completed, valid sexual assaults occur on college campuses and beyond. Duke Lacrosse is emblematic of nothing, Captain. Is defines nothing but its own miserable facts.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  57. kyle says:


    You wrote:

    “Would an action like that be harmful to the player? Yes. Might it be unjust, and might the complaint be invalid, thus harming him unjustly? Yes. Do people every day face criminal charges and public opprobrium for bad things they didn’t do, and then have to rebuild reputations and goodwill as a result? Yes. It is an imperfect world. But a compelling accusation and the death of the young woman at the center of it add up to “sit out a few games, son” to me.”

    The ND player wasn’t prosecuted, now, was he? So, I guess he did not face “public opprobrium” for a bad thing that he did not do. But, if it were up to you, then he would have. How would you feel if you were accused of a crime you did not commit, and you had to suffer the consequences? I guarantee you would lose your everloving mind.

    Roger, I have a real problem with the fact that you are the premiere HQE for the Army, employed by TCAP, who will influence hundreds of CID agents, SVP’s and Trial Counsel. And, your comment above indicates that if a Soldier has to face criminal charges or public opprobrium for something that he did not do, then those are the breaks because it is an imperfect world. So, does that mean you would consider a falsely accused as collateral damage in the Army’s war against sexual assault in your eyes.

    Thanks, but, I kind of like the way that the Consititution was written where someone who is accused of a crime is afforded due process until the Government proves his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Somehow, somewhere, the concept of crime victims’ rights has gained traction and now it appears that you have no problem with punishing those who are falsely accused because “our system is imperfect.” Perhaps, TCAP should employ someone who won’t accept that “the system is imperfect” when he is wrong, and employ someone who will strive the make the system as perfect as it can be. Hint, this will not happen by destroying the 5th and 14th amendments. It will happen by CID Investigators conducting a thorough investigation to include questioning a “victim” when the story is not supported by the evidence and does not make logical sense.

    As a military defense attorney, I find that there is a large percentage of females who make false allegations of sexual assault against our Servicemembers. I also find that CID has been rendered impotent to fairly investigate the truth of the allegations because CID has been instructed to treat every allegation as true out of fear of “victimizing” the victim, i.e. empowering a woman with an agenda to lie to escape complete accountability for her actions. I suppose the Army can rest assured that the Soldiers TDS attorney will figure out at the Article 32 what the truth is. That is, if the TDS attorney has the gumption and training to do so, against an SVP who has vast more experience and resources than TDS does. Have you noticed how the Army JAG Corps has found millions of dollars to hire HQE’s with an agenda, SVP’s who are senior in rank to most TDS counsel, and CID investigators who focus solely on sexual assault, yet, the Soldier gets one TDS attorney to represent him who represents Soldiers on a number of different issues?

    Truth is, I should be thrilled to see someone with your apparent agenda rattling the sexual assault saber because I get hired by Servicemembers to defend them against baseless charges. And, I get to destroy liars on the stand, which I love to do. Unfortunately, I have to make a living, and they have to pay my retainer. I would prefer to be forced out of a job and have to represent those injured in car accidents.

    The paradigm shift that appears to be taking place with regards to sexual assault is in danger of becoming the same type of jurisprudenced occasioned during the Salem Witchcraft trials. What a dispicable mess that was.

  58. Thanks, Kyle, for your comment. I must begin my response, however by pointing out what should be glaringly obvious to you as an attorney: Every point you’ve made here is based on one massive assumption that you know very well isn’t true: The young man accused of sexually assaulting Elizabeth Seeberg has not been found, declared, or otherwise established by anyone as “innocent.” And yet you clearly equate the decision by the St Joseph’s County District Attorney not to pursue criminal charges as “proof” that he is innocent. I know logic isn’t formally taught in most law schools, but really- you must see the remarkable flaw in yours. In fact, I’m positive that, as an experienced criminal attorney, you’re quite familiar with the legal burdens at play in criminal procedure. You know very well that only in exceptionally rare cases will an authority (a DA, an Attorney General, etc) make a legal declaration that a person is innocent. The vast majority of the time, a person is either found “not guilty” after a trial (meaning the state has not proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt- an appropriate but very high burden) or a decision is made not to pursue criminal charges due to a lack of admissible evidence. Neither decision, in almost all cases, attempts to say anything official about the actual innocence of the accused person. While it’s true that a decision not to prosecute may be related to a belief by the prosecutor that the accused is actually innocent, there is almost never a formal declaration of the accused’s innocence concomitant with a decision not to pursue charges. In this case, DA Dvorak’s statement reflected the usual course- nothing, absolutely nothing- was stated as to whether this young man is actually innocent. Instead, a completely reasonable decision (as far as I can tell) was made not to pursue charges because Ms Seeberg’s statements are inadmissible because of her unavailability (and subsequent inability to be cross-examined). Since I know you know this, I can only assume that your agenda (in attempting to frame most sexual assault allegations as untrue) is far more pronounced than you claim mine is.

    I am not surprised (because of Ms. Seeberg’s untimely death in early September) that a criminal case against the man she accused cannot be brought. From an evidentiary standpoint, the case appears to be unprosecutable. Because of this, it is correct and appropriate that the accused suffer no legal consequences for his actions against Ms Seeberg. But legal guilt and moral guilt are quite separate, Kyle, and you of all people should know better than to attempt to conflate them.

    However, another avenue exists to hold this man accountable for this act, and that is the university’s internal disciplinary process (Ms. Seeberg’s testimony would not be necessary in that case). But, because of what appears clearly to me to be terrible incompetence and/or inattention on the part of the officials involved in investigating this act (not to mention an apparent stance by the university not to pursue the matter on its own as a disciplinary one as they can do), the case has been rendered weaker than it had to be had it been investigated correctly, quickly, and with any vigor whatsoever.

    With regard to your opinions on my program and how I support the US Army, I don’t believe it’s my place in this space to comment on the policies that surround my employment. If you have specific questions, please contact me offline at [email protected]. I will offer one correction, though; while I appreciate the sentiment, I am not, in fact, the “premier” HQE within my program (TCAP, as you mention). I serve equally with two other HQEs, both highly skilled and well respected former prosecutors.

    Finally, I’d be interested to know what your belief (that many soldiers are falsely accused in sex assault cases) is based on. Clearly it’s not a research based statement as no research exists to support such a claim, and research that has been done extensively and worldwide in the civilian context contradicts your view. My own experience supporting the military has been much different from yours. As in the civilian world, it is common to discover that valid sex assault claims are dismissed as false because of counter-intuitive but logical reactions of victims, and because of the negative and unskilled reactions of responders on every level. Perhaps it helps you in terms of effectiveness and your own conscience to believe that the women you “destroy” on the witness stand are liars, Kyle, but I don’t believe you’re correct much of the time at all.

    Nevertheless, I admire your willingness to zealously defend individuals accused of serious crimes and I do not deny that, in some cases, accused persons are not actually guilty, or at very least not appropriately legally guilty. I’m sure we’d agree that every accused deserves excellent and dedicated legal counsel, and that raising the level of advocacy for everyone (prosecution and defense) does the most to ensure justice- the ultimate goal of everyone in the system. I have found TDS attorneys to be very effective and highly skilled. I enjoy working with them and have learned much from them. I wish you well in your career but would challenge many of your assumptions. Again, thank you for your comment.

  59. kyle says:


    Every person who is accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. The ND football player is innocent under the law. It is what protects every person from being wrongfully convicted. So, I would hope you would agree that my assumption is a valid one based on 235 years of jurisdprudence. I think that a guilty person rotting in jail due to a mistake or flat out lie is more unjust than a guilty man being acquitted. Your agenda and the number of organizations to which you belong is to flip the burden of proof onto the defendant when it comes to sex crimes.

    With regards to my opinion regarding false accusations in the military, you should probably educate yourself as your statement that there is “no research” to base my statement on is false.

    First, McDowell researched 1,218 cases from the Air Force between 1980-1984 where 212 were admitted as hoaxes by the accuser. 460 were founded, and that left 596 unfounded or unresolved. The researchers made contact with the victims to interview them and offered them polygraphs, 27% of those “victims” admitted that they fabricated the allegation, which leaves 30% of allegations that were admitted to be fake. This does not take into account the “founded” complaints that were false or the unfounded cases where there was no recantation which were false. These are only the accounts where the accuser admits that the accusation was false and made up.

    Second, Kanin published an article in 1994 based on research from a Midwestern town over a 9 year period indicating that 41% of the rapes reported were false in that the “victim” admitted they were false.

    Finally, my own personal experience. I have represented 12 Soldiers accused of sexual assault:
    3 convicted (2 guilty pleas/one contested)
    2 dismissed during the investigation
    3 dismissed after the Article 32
    1 dismissed during trial
    2 acquittals
    1 pending, but looks like a dismissal at Article 32.

    Just taking the 2 dismissals during the investigation with the 3 dismissals at the Article 32 investigation where the victims were clearly lying gives me a 41% false allegation rate.

    What is your rate based on your time in the Army? I bet it is 100% because you highly qualified experts aren’t permitted to question the accuser regarding contradicting evidence. Deep down inside you know you were hired to explain “counterintuitive victim behavior” and find why it is logical with regards to this one person. I would imagine that sometimes this involves a certain amount of telling an accuser what to say to make her a “victim.”

    But, Roger, my main question that you never answered is: Do you believe that those persons who are falsely accused and punished while awaiting trial are simply collateral damage in the war against sexual assault?

  60. I’m sorry, Kyle- I honestly did state something incorrectly. I should have said there is no valid, methodologically rigorous research to back up your claims. The Kanin study has been widely criticized as being terribly sloppy- Kanin relied upon law enforcement to tell him when a case was a false report and used no standardized method of coding himself to determine if the reports actually were false. It is, for example, quite common for cases to be reported as false when a victim fails to show up for a court appearance, even if she’s homeless, or in a threatening domestic situation. I’m not as familiar with the McDowell study but given the time frame of it and the methods used to compel admissions of falsity (i.e., threatening complainants with polygraph exams) I remain unimpressed.

    My point is not that there are no such things as false reports. I have never, ever suggested that personally or professionally and I never would. My point is that false reports in sex assault cases occur no more frequently than in other types of cases, and that there is no reason to view a complaint of sexual violence with more suspicion simply because it’s a complaint of sexual violence. However, many people do so because of deep-seated and unfair biases and ancient myths. Women and men do lie about being sexually assaulted. But they don’t do so any more often then they lie about car theft, insurance fraud, robbery, or any other major crime. What we do often see in sexual assault cases, because of the cultural taboos associated with sex and sexuality, because of societal judgments, old biases, etc, are lies from victims about collateral matters, i.e., how much they drank, who invited whom in first, etc. Victims do this for many reasons- shame, fear of making the case more difficult to prosecute (ironically being nakedly truthful about all details makes the case stronger with a prosecutor like me who knows what he or she is doing), fear of judgments from everyone around them as to what they did to “invite” the assault, etc. Without a doubt, sex and sexuality are weighty, private, hyper-burdened subjects. These things sometimes cause victims to act in ways that are counter-intuitive (as you state) and often make claims harder to believe. But doesn’t mean the claims are false. Sometimes, albeit rarely, they are. That’s a fact of life and I wouldn’t seek to state otherwise in any forum. Knowing when not to prosecute a case (and thus spare a non-guilty accused the agony of a trial where no crime occurred) is more important than knowing how to prosecute a valid case successfully; I’ll fully agree to that. My job as a prosecutor was never to win cases- it was to do justice. If justice meant dismissing a case, I did so readily.

    You’re correct that I do, in professional efforts, seek to explain “counter-intuitive” behavior from victims because it acts as an unfair bar to the correct investigation and prosecution of men who rape. And most men who rape do so again and again and again, tearing up and truncating people’s lives and destroying all manner of otherwise positive, productive human interaction. I will not- as I said before- discuss Army policy or my professional involvement with them in this space, except to say that I am honored to be part of the institution and believe that it values both the welfare of victims and the rights of accused soldiers with equal and appropriate vigilance.

    As to your main question- do I believe that the falsely accused and punished while awaiting trial are simply collateral damage? No, Kyle, I don’t. I believe that people who are falsely accused should be vigorously represented and readily, ably abetted by honest, ethical law enforcement officers and prosecutors who can help get to the bottom of a false accusation quickly. I am fine, by the way, with holding those who falsely report sex crimes accountable when appropriate. That being said, I have found that most people who do falsely accuse are often mentally ill. In any event, a false accusation is nothing short of a tragedy, a grave wrongdoing, and/or a crime. I don’t tolerate them and neither should anyone else. But to suggest that many or most sex crimes are reported falsely is to grotesquely invert the real issue- that the great majority of offenders go undetected, and the great majority of victims suffer in silence or are grossly mistreated by responders at every level. Because of this, sexual violence continues at a rabid pace, and in every environment.

  61. Jaydee says:

    It is time for colleges to bring these feral thugs under control! Obviously rape by ‘athletes’ is somewhat of a tradition at Notre Dame and is not taken seriously! If the victim had been a relative of mine I can assure everyone that the rapist would no longer be capable of any sexual activity of any kind! This is a disgrace! These so called ‘athletes’ contribute NOTHING for western civilization! Oh yeah one more thing-0they should be held to the same academic standards as REAL students!

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