Friday, March 16, 2007

The Price of Sorrow

I found this article yesterday.

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- A man who sexually assaulted a University of Virginia student in 1984 and apologized to her two decades later as part of the Alcoholics Anonymous program was sentenced to 18 months in prison Thursday.

William Beebe, 42, pleaded guilty in November to one count of aggravated sexual battery for his attack on Liz Seccuro.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire ordered a 10-year prison sentence with all but 18 months suspended, as long as Beebe performs 500 hours of community service related to issues of sexual assault and alcohol abuse on college campuses. Prosecutors had recommended two years.

"I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, but I was a different person then," Beebe said. "I have a purpose, and that gives life meaning. I didn't have that then."

The case was revived in 2005 after Beebe wrote Seccuro a letter of apology in an attempt to make amends for the assault as part of AA's recovery program. The program's ninth step calls on alcoholics to make amends to those they have harmed -- unless doing so would cause further injury. In an exchange of e-mails that ensued, Beebe wrote: "I want to make clear that I'm not intentionally minimizing the fact of having raped you. I did."

Seccuro, 40, of Greenwich, Connecticut, was given a drink at a party that made her feel strange, and she later passed out, leaving her memory hazy. She said she vividly recalls being attacked by Beebe, but always had a vague impression she'd been assaulted by additional members of the fraternity.

Beebe, of Las Vegas, originally was charged with rape and object sexual penetration and could have faced a sentence of life in prison if convicted. But in November, he entered into a plea deal after investigators uncovered new information suggesting Seccuro was attacked by more than one person that night.

Seccuro eventually called Charlottesville police to report what had happened. There is no statute of limitations on felonies in Virginia, and Beebe was arrested in Las Vegas.

Seccuro said that she reported the assault to university officials in 1984 but that a dean and the campus police treated her dismissively.

Seccuro, who says she has forgiven Beebe for assaulting her, said an apology is not a substitute for punishment. The attack changed her life dramatically, she said, and she deserves to finally see justice served.

Several people testifying on Beebe's behalf Thursday said he is a kind and generous friend who often helped other recovering substance abuse addicts.

"Will didn't tell me what to do, he showed me," said William Daniel Griggs Jr. of Richmond, who credited Beebe with helping in his recovery. He also said that Beebe helped care for his sick son several years ago.

Seccuro sat grimly through the testimony of Beebe's supporters. At one point she put a hand on the shoulder of her visibly agitated husband.

Prosecutor Claude Worrell described Beebe's decision to apologize as selfish, and said it traumatized Seccuro all over again. Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana responded that it was "sad and tragic" that Beebe's apology was depicted that way, and said Securro made a choice to respond to his letter.

Securro, visibly shaken, left the courtroom. Later, Worrell shot back, "As it relates to mister Beebe, Elizabeth Seccuro has never had a choice."

Seccuro went public with her name and story, hoping to lead other sexual assault survivors to seek help. She launched STARS -- Sisters Together Assisting Rape Survivors -- to raise money for rape victims and their families.

Hogshire clearly struggled with the sentence, saying what Seccuro went through was horrific, but that Beebe went on to be a leader in the recovery community.

"Is he remorseful?" the judge asked. "I think so."

I think this was a very interesting article for a lot of reasons. The most obvious one is the aspect of forgiveness. The victim of the rape said that she does forgive her rapist. So forgiveness has happened her, but she obviously feels that forgiveness does not equal the negation of the consequences of his actions. And I can see the viewpoint on that. I've not been raped or been a rapist, but I can only imagine the psychological consequences of being victimized like that, and that those emotions would stay with you for your entire life, particularly when confronted by a sexual situation.

I also find it interesting that the rapist is willingly accepting his punishment. He realizes that what he did was wrong and perhaps even more, evil. He made a decision (after deep consideration) to get in touch with his victim and try to make amends.

So one level I want to think about this for this week and then one next week. For the past couple of months, my friend Preston Shipp has been teaching a class at a women's prison here in Nashville about the justice system (you can read about it here). One of the things they've thought about is what the purpose of prison is. Is prison intended to be punishment or rehabilitative? If prison is truly about justice and restorative justice at that, then prison has to be rehabilitative. And if prison is about being rehabilitated, does goes to prison do any good for the rapist. From the article, it seems that there is genuine remorse and desire to make amends for what happened, but it also seems that the rapist going to prison is only for punishment and I'm not sure it would make him feel any worse about what he did.

Now, of course, this is a very sticky situation because I certainly don't want to imply that there shouldn't be any consequence for what this man did because there should be. But maybe what is going on here isn't so much a desire for justice as it is for revenge and unfortunately it has become way too easy to confuse the two.

Next week... in what ways does this situation mirror how we think about eternal punishment/Hell and if we are called to forgive 70x7, is God exempt from that? Where does punishment for sin fit into our theology?


Clarissa said...

We are human. We don't have the capability of canceling sins or their consequences, though we do have the capability to forgive and not hold grudges against those who have "trespassed against us". God's ability to "hurl our sins to the depths of the sea" (Micah 7) is so wonderful to me, to anyone who chooses him. But people are not strong enough to take a past incident, pick it up, and throw it to a place where it will no longer have an impact on anyone. Whether we like it or not, sin often has earthly consequences, even when forgiven.

Snapshot said...

Good post.
Prison is punishment and a deterant(or at least it's supposed to be.)It's one of the prices for living in a free society where we have to have some sort of justice system to keep people as safe as possible.
Just as Clarissa said, sin has consequences even when forgiveness takes place.
Some very "forgiven" people are in prison enduring the consequences of their sin.
One can only hope that it will help others in the process.
Our preacher has a saying:
Sin will always take you further than you want to go.
Keep you longer than you want to stay.
And cost you more than you want to pay.

Justin said...

The law said the woman caught in adultery should be stoned... and we all know what Jesus did.

Clarissa said...

Absolutely, Jesus did that, and we can forgive. I pray to God that you'd never catch me throwing a stone ... he's seen my every deed. But the government is not Jesus. We can be Jesus to people, but a secular government will not, cannot. Jesus was changing the religious law, dealing with religious leaders.

But, thinking on a personal level, I do not have the capability to erase consequences that my sin and the sins of others around me have had; they can linger for years, or even generations. As many tombstones in glorious old cemeteries say, "Gone, but not forgotten."

I hope to see some of you guys tomorrow night at rehearsal ... I'll be in Nashville for the day and Brandon invited me to that. Ciao!

Anonymous said...

God apparently does NOT have the power to "hurl our sins to the depths of the sea" according to the way Christianity teaches the theory of the atonement. According to the teaching, God's hands are bound by justice, even he is not capable of simply forgiving our sins. A price must be paid. So, God's righteous anger swoops down on us and at the last possible moment, Jesus steps in and takes the punishment for us. God, the divine oger, must have satisfaction.

This is the "good news" of the new testament theory of atonement in the gospels. Yea!!!

Anonymous said...


Clarissa said...

Wow, you're happy! Have you met Shrek? He's an ogre. He's green.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't picking on you Clarissa, you just happen to hit on something that's been sticking in my craw.

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