How often have you heard recently that some sexually predatory and disgraced politician or cleric is OK now, the slate’s been wiped clean and it’s all good with jeebus because it was all about the booze, or the drugs, or the sex addiction and blah blah they’ve gone into rehab blah?
Rehab is a massive business worldwide; the teen rehabilitation clinic industry alone is worth $1.2 billion annually. Making money from human misery can even buy you an ambassadorxhip to Europe.
12-step programs, being peer-led and largely self-directed, really should be better than these medically industrialised warehouses of emotional trouble, shouldn’t they?
But a recent rape case questions whether anyone involved in 12 step programmes like AA ever give any thought to the damaged people that some of their admittedly criminal peers may have left in their wake. Are 12-step programmes a good alternative to medical rehab or are they ultimately an expression of pure selfishness in emphasising the addicts’ recovery above all other considerations including the law?
Tucked into Deborah Orr’s column in this morning’s Independent was this short item:
An astonishing rape case in the US features a man who got in touch with a woman he’d raped may years before and confessed to her by letter in order to “make amends” in step nine of his 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous programme. The woman in question, a Mrs Seccuro, was unimpressed by the gesture, because her own recollection was of a violent gang rape, while her assailant’s was of something deeply unpleasant but rather less elaborate.
I hadn’t picked up on this in my meandering around the internets so I went googling, and it’s a well reported but ugly story:
William Beebe, 42, raped Liz Seccuro, above, now 40, 20 years ago when he was a frat boy and she was a sorority pledge attending a party at Beebe’s fraternity house at the University of Virginia. Seccuro was first drugged by way of something the frat house bartender slipped into her drink. She was then led by Beebe into a room upstairs where he pulled her onto his lap and began reading poetry to her. Repulsed, she pushed him away and fled, screaming, “HELP!” but a frat brother of Beebe’s grabbed her and threw her back in Beebe’s direction instead, then left. Beebe, whom she remembers as reeking of alcohol and body order, then threw her on the bed, ripped off her clothes, pried her legs open and raped her. She had never had sex before, the pain was agonizing, and she bled profusely, then passed out. She believes that while she was passed out, she was gang raped, and that possibly frat rushees watched the rapes as though it were a spectator sport. She awoke wrapped in a bloody sheet, then walked to the emergency room.
She immediately reported the rape to campus police and the Dean at the University of Virginia, who, she says, blew her off, did not believe her, dismissed her. She was devastated by the attacks. Her grades dropped, she withdrew from friends and family, she entered into a tumultuous relationship, then married the man and was quickly divorced. She began to suffer panic attacks.
Beebe ”apologized” 20 years later in response to the “9th step” of the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, which requires that participants make amends to everyone they have harmed, unless to do so will cause additional harm. He mailed Seccuro a letter of apology 20 years after the rapes. The letter shocked and devastated her. She e-mailed Beebe, wanting to ask him more questions about his apology, the reasons for it, and what had happened that night. He insisted that although he’d been drunk, he remembered the events of that night, but his version was markedly different from what she remembered:
“I ‘convinced’ you after what seemed like hesitation, that staying w/me in my room upstairs was better than walking all the way back to the suites… Of course, seeing opportunity to have a good time w/you overrode any gentlemanly efforts to return you safely back to the dorms.
“We started to make out in my room a while…There was no fight and it was all over in short order. When we awoke in the morning it was still chilly out, so I lent you my jean jacket, and you walked home.
“There were no other men present. I was the only one.”
Disturbed by Beebe’s characterizing having raped her as “having fun” with her, Seccuro pressed him, and he finally acknowledged, in writing, that he had raped her.
I’ll let Deborah Orr pick up rest of the story again :
… Beebe, was arrested and charged with rape, which he then, with breathtaking cheek, denied. He later pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of aggravated sexual battery. Mrs Seccuro, on the other hand, started receiving hate mail, and had a miscarriage. I’ll say she did.
This case raises huge questions not only about rape and the terrible way victims are treated but also about the legitimacy and safety of 12 step programs.
Now I don’t doubt that joining AA has helped thousands of people, but AA’s tendency to put the wellbeing of the ‘client’ before the interests of soiciety at large is troubling. All that Beebe’s AA mentors seemingly cared about was his healing, to the disregard of all else. That there was a victim, Ms Securro, was an irrelevance to them as was the fact that Beebe had confessed to a crime. Every AA member he told about it as part of his ‘recovery’ failed to report the rape to the authorities.
There’s been a fair bit of discussion on US blogs about this case: well, I call it discussion but on some blogs it’s just abuse. Some commenters are saying it’s all about forgiveness and he’s making amends and should be forgiven but then they add that oh, by the way, she’s a filthy slut who was asking for it. A couple of comments chosen at random from an apparently sensible law policy blog:
I am a Criminal Justice Student.
This poor, poor man was trying to do what’s right and his victim tries to lynch him after 20 years. It seems from what i’ve read that the woman still doesn’t accept his apology, even though she says she did. I agree with the sentence and i hope he can get past this and move on with his life. Hopefully the victim and offender can both find closure.
Only a cynical, victim personality would consider apologizing for bad behavior to be an attempt at legitimizing that behavior. People do make mistakes and have regrets and an apology is the first step to attempting to own the behavior and make amends.
Securro apparently made the smarmy comment that “alcohol doesn’t rape people, people rape people.” Let’s take that a bit further. How about if we say that “alcohol doesn’t say ‘yes’ people say ‘yes'” when women use alcohol as their excuse for the morning after regret claims of rape while under the influence.
Securro is a victim, because she clearly enjoys that role. But she’s not a survivor. She went to a college party and she wasn’t careful. She doesn’t even remember what happened herself, except that she was penetrated. And 23 years later, she still hasn’t gotten over her own belief that her vagina is a sacred object that the college and the legal system are responsible for.
It sounds as if Beebe took responsibility for his life and is moving forward, but Securro seems to want to remain stuck in her victimhood.
Does he deserve to be “punished?” By law, yes. But he’s been sentenced due to a combination of two factors. The first is his ownership of his own behavior. The second is Securro’s pathetic need for revenge.
And that’s the polite stuff. You get the drift of what Ms Securro has been subjected to.
Beebe is at last in jail where a convicted rapist belongs, thanks to her continuing bravery. Seccuro was prepared to go all the way rather than see an injustice continue.
I have to wonder if prison will actually be a punishment for this man though. From the various reports on this story Beebe seems to enjoy telling his story a little too much – will he be having a grand old time in jail, comparing rape stories with the other sexual predators he’s banged up with?
I get the sense that this continuing supposed expiation of guilt that Beebe’s been wallowing in is just more ego-tripping, a revelling in his power over his victim over and over again. He chased her for years to try and get her to accept his ‘apology’. By indulging him in this AA acted as enabler to a stalker. AA must take responsibility for that, not act as though peer-counseling programs are something sacrosanct that should take no responsibility but should be accorded some sort of quasi-medical status re confidentiality, like doctors or psychiatrists.
How far is anonymity and confidentiality in these quasi-official psychological peer-counselling groups supposed to go? How effective are they? Who’s actually evaluating them?
It seems an area that at least merits further study. But is that likely?
For instance, AA has had a problem with dealing with multiple addictions for some time. The Village Voice published an excellent expose on how AA deals with internal issues like – go to AA addicted to booze and prescription drugs or crack and you can only talk about the booze. Anything else is, it seems, a little bit declasse and not something to be addressed.
AA deals with criticism in a very efficient way – it simply fails to deal with it at all. To do so would mean bringing members into the public eye and one of their problems is just how of those members are professionals in medicine, law enforcement, the judiciary and other public positions. Public accountability and the inevitable exposure of their personal frailties is, understandably. not really what they want.
And I suppose I really shouldn’t be so surprised at AA members’ enabling of a stalking former frat-boy rapist who gets off on guilt when I read things about the organisation like this like this:
For a long time AA was all male, virtually all white, mostly Protestant, mostly middle-class, and all “pure” alcoholics. And drug addiction wasn’t the only blind spot. AA historically discriminated against African Americans (who were only allowed in as visitors until the mid 1940s, and then were encouraged to start their own meetings) and women.
The AA book Pass It On notes that “even Dr. Bob [an AA cofounder] had expressed uneasiness about admitting women to AA membership when the first few appeared.” Alcoholics Anonymous is still gender-specific to men throughout (despite social changes over the last 50 years, purists refuse to alter even one word Bill wrote). The only chapter for women is titled “To Wives.”
Women have made some strides in AA since Dr. Bob, but the fellowship’s racial demographics continue to reflect its racist origins. As of a 1998 AA survey, an estimated 34 percent of members were women, and AA was 88 percent white.
Aha. the patriarchy strikes again. There’s a surprise..