An Interview with Liz Seccuro

While Liz Seccuro is probably best known as a survivor of a rape perpetrated over two decades ago, she also happens to be a mother, businesswoman, self-proclaimed “accidental activist” and the author of the recently released memoir, Crash Into Me, which details Seccuro’s life during her time at the University and in the months surrounding the re-emergence of her rape case. Earlier this year, the Iris staff had the pleasure of talking to Ms. Seccuro about her book, which has been excerpted in our current issue, and her life post-trial. Here is what she had to say.

Iris: First and foremost, why did you decide to write Crash Into Me?

Liz: I didn’t so much decide as I was asked to—hounded. Clearly, when it became a nationally known case, you get all of these phone calls… It’s funny because I was in the middle of writing another book, completely unrelated, that had something to do with my professional life. I had an agent so I thought this would be the right way to do it, but it took me a long time to write it and to get around to the reason why [I should write it]. I didn’t want it to be a book about statistics or a book about an end; I wanted it to really reflect on the experience of what I went through in totality. Because the media focuses on a lot of sensational aspects of it, and I understand that, but I really want to sort of say in my own words what happened, while helping other people and educating other people. I really think it was important because a ‘sound bite’ does not convey anything….[Crash Into Me] started out double the size it is. It’s a really quick read I hear [laughing]… I wanted to write it that way, and I wanted it to be, too, a memoir, but more like a novel, like a thriller. I wanted it to read like a thriller, a mystery, a crime sort of thing, so that people who were not so much into the movement or a survivor or any of that [could appreciate it]… I want it to be appealing to a larger audience.

Iris: How did you decide upon your title?

Liz: It was funny… the surfing metaphor became [important to me, though it is] a lot smaller in the book now; it’s the last paragraph… [It represents] the past crashing into the present. When you’re surfing, you can crash into people really easily, so I thought it was a title that conveyed the tragedy of what was happening and also the joy. My agent actually insisted on it. We had ten [titles], then we narrowed it down to three.  I think you always name the book after your write it. Some people have another process; my name for it was [originally] something like Ghost Town. A lot of rape survivors feel like they’re living [in a ghost town]. I don’t know how to explain it, but [you feel like] you’re the only person left standing there and everyone disappears and falls away, and you feel like you’re just walking through a ghost town.  I still love that title but, oh well.

Iris: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your memoir?

Liz: I think there is an assumption that writing a memoir is cathartic. But, in order to make it real, I had to go back to a very tough time… and also even when the edits would come back, there’s no cheating, you have to read every single word and line and write every single word and line… so I think that’s hard. Also, when I think of the word ‘memoir,’ I laugh. Because it’s like, ‘Am I’m going to die tomorrow? This is it.  I’m done. I will never do anything else again.’

Iris: How about the most rewarding part?

Liz: The first day you open that box and see a galley. It is like, ‘Wow, I did it!’… I tell you, I was rejected by thirteen publishers before Bloomsbury bought it… [They all said to me] people aren’t interested in [stories about sexual assault], which made me really sad. [I thought,] ‘Really?’ Because if you click on any news website, they’re the first read and first emailed…people are most definitely interested…  The triumphant part is that it did get made. It’s getting the attention it deserved. And it’s helping people, if that many people are saying that we’re not interested…I disagree with that, but I also think it’s a really terrible way to approach something that is an epidemic. It’s shocking to me.

Iris: Looking at the way rape and sexual assault were perceived in the 1980s and then also today, in the new millennium, do you see changes?

Liz: I don’t think we’ve come as far as we think we have. I think certainly there are more resources available, but I think we’re still blaming victims… I think that there is still this whole notion that a woman who reports rape is lying or a gold-digger. I think there is so much more attention given to false accusers and the whole idea that false accusers are the vast majority [of people who report rape and sexual assault], something we know that it is not true… There are 200 people who were exonerated by the ‘Innocence Project’ [but] millions and millions of rapists walk in the streets… I think that certainly the public is more aware of it, whether it’s a campus issue or any city, ‘Any Town’ U.S.A. But the victim blaming thing is epidemic and is shocking to me.

Iris: You write in your book that you were in a sorority, but so much of your book seems like it is an indictment of the Greek life and Greek culture. Is this the case?

Liz: I disagree. I don’t believe that my work is an indictment of the Greek system at all. Both of my husbands were fraternity men. I don’t think one bad egg makes the carton bad. I think that the Greek system—it depends school to school… I think there are loathsome, abhorrent people [everywhere] in everyday life.

Iris: How long is the book tour?

Liz:  It’s as long as they make you do it [laughs]. Next week is New York and Connecticut, and all of that stuff is sort of a trigger. It’s almost re-traumatizing. I have a really great therapist who says you need to keep in touch with yourself and say no to certain things, and then I have a publicist who is saying you need to get out there and sell books…. Self-care is really hard for survivors; we’re not good at it.  We love [to be involved]. I will sit at a place and wait until every single person has told their story, and I want to hear it, but then you’re starving, and then you’re tired, then you’re answering emails and having that tenth extra glass of wine to go to sleep, it’s like, “Oh my God!” It’s not to complain but [I say this] because I think it’s important for people to know, even survivors to know, that when they’re reading this book, there are triggers… Take it slow, and be in a safe place or have safe people around you. Don’t be vulnerable; you know everyone has their safe place and safe person… People can usually track when they have panics and flashbacks… Like for me, I know this sounds weird, my trigger is shower[ing], which is unfortunate because I love showers. There is something in the back of my brain, where I think I was cleaned off in one of those showers. You can read it in the book. My first panic attack ever was in a shower. I’m sorry, but what should the happiest place on earth? The shower.  Warmth. People sing. They get their best ideas. But, every day I dread that process. It was only when this case reopened that I started to remember that and the investigation sort of confirmed that perhaps that’s what they tried to do.  I have a vision of being in that shower….

Iris: How do you think your life has changed since the events of your first year here at U.Va.? Do you ever wonder if things would have been different?

Liz: I come from a place where I think everybody has something that affects the rest of their life, whether it’s a car wreck or a divorce or something like that. Most of us have experienced some sort of trauma in life, and there’s the life before and the life after. I think I have a much deeper empathy toward humans, animals, everybody. I think it’s made me a better person, but I don’t, you know, but– it is what it is. It’s never been a pity party. I don’t feel sorry for me or myself. It’s turned me into an accidental activist, and I really enjoy working with people and teaching them about what it’s like. The only thing I would change, the only thing I would change, is the PTSD and the panic attacks. They seriously are really awful. I hate when people lightly say, ‘Oh my God, I had a panic attack.’ No, you didn’t. The real ones are 900 times more intense.  Intellectually, I know you can’t die from one, but you really feel like you’re going to die.  It’s really horrible. There’s medication for it, and I’m in therapy…There were years when I would go without them, and then when I was writing the book, and editing the final pages, I was having them daily. I couldn’t leave my house, but when you’re the mother of two young children, I wanted to be strong for them…

Iris: Do you think that writing the book and the events surrounding the trial have affected the way that you parent?  Did it change the way you looked at having a daughter?

Liz: Absolutely. But, I think in this day and age, there all those moms, the hovering helicopter moms who obsessively check the sex offender registry, I mean, you know, I’m not that girl at all. It has made me a better mother, and certainly more aware, but I’ve not become the overreacting paranoid person that one would think that someone in my shoes would be. If anything, it really just deepened my empathy. It has also made me want to raise a son who is a good man and who treats women with respect, so there’s that too. I’m never going to be a perfect parent. I have the guilt that all… moms have. But, I look at some moms who [say things like]: ‘Oh my God, did you microwave something in plastic?’ or ‘Oh my God, everything that you make for your children must be organic.’ And I’m kind of looking at the bigger picture. I like all that stuff too, but I’m looking at the bigger picture, keeping them out of harms way and also raising them to be full of joy, to be relaxed, to be responsible citizens, and to care for one another–to be the kids to say something if they see something … I look at my third grader now, and you see the bullying already and the cliques, and I won’t stand for it. I always say to her, ‘You’re special,’  because I think my story, really whether you look at the rapists or me, was really all about belonging [and]  people wanting to belong. You don’t want to be different, and it may not be so true now, but it was certainly true in 1984. The whole idea of everything from bullying to sexual assault to partner violence has to do with people not talking because they don’t want to be the one.  Who wants to be that person? These men are now in their 40s, and they don’t want to talk to the police because they don’t want to break the bonds of brotherhood. It’s a sickness that continues forever. It’s like high school. Well, it’s like middle school. It’s actually like elementary school. And it continues, and that’s what our culture is breeding. So while everyone is worried about pesticide on their apples, that’s not to say that I’m not worried about that too, I’m also worrying about bigger things.

Iris: Does faith still play a role in your life?

Liz: I mean I’m a traditional Roman Catholic girl. I will say that I think that everyone has to believe in something bigger than them…

Iris: How do you balance your time?

Liz: It’s all smoke and mirrors. I don’t sleep much which is not good. I do work out which is good. I shop on the internet only. I have a great infrastructure. I have an amazing nanny. I am able to [put my] kids first then everything else. But I think what is missing in that is the ‘me’ part; I can’t meditate to save myself; it’s too busy in here [pointing to her head]. I think that, you know, I have a great husband, but he is on the road 90% of the time… I’m pretty stringent about the way I eat and exercise, but that’s a control thing and I think a lot of survivors have that….I really enjoy spending time with the kids. Ava goes to school three blocks from me. They have the most gracious manners. God knows, through most of Ava’s life I’ve been acting “as if” and putting on that smile for her, and I think everyone owes their child a care free life. I have an amazing team of people.

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To learn more about Ms. Seccuro, visit www.lizseccuro.com

To subscribe to Iris or donate, visit http://iris.virginia.edu/support-Iris/

Photographs courtesy of Liz Seccuro.


1 Comment

  1. Ruthann Carr

    Amazing. I can’t wait to read the book.