Tom Seeberg 'looks forward' as he raises awareness about sexual assault

June 12, 2012

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Tom Seeberg says, "It's not about moving on; it's about moving forward." Seeberg has been trying to move forward since he lost his daughter, Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, in 2010. Lizzy was a student at St. Mary's College in Indiana when she took her own life, shortly after the school year started. It was a little more than a week after she accused a football player at nearby University of Notre Dame of sexual assault.

Tom recalls that the details that came out after his daughter's death painted a portrait of a troubled young woman. In a report for National Catholic Reporter, the accused football player's lawyer, Joe Power, told reporter Melinda Henneberger that “this had happened before,” about Lizzy. Henneberger writes that Power suggested she had previously accused a young man of assault while a student at University of Dayton in Ohio. Lizzy's father Tom says there was no record at the University of Dayton of the accusation. Power also talked to Henneberger about Lizzy's prescription to Effexor, revealing details about her past struggles with depression and anxiety.

Power's claims were not the first time the Seebergs were confronted with difficult details of how everything unfolded around Lizzy's death. Reporting by the Chicago Tribune raised questions for Tom and his wife Mary about how University of Notre Dame handled their daughter's alleged sexual attack. Tom says Lizzy both wrote and typed a statement about the night in question but it would be considered inadmissible in a court because it would be hearsay without Lizzy present. Tom concedes that he and Lizzy's mother were not seeking litigation, but more answers from the university about why Lizzy's claims against the football player were not more aggresively pursued. Tom says it's not just about a court of law, but about questions to the university's code of conduct; they were going after a "private justice." He didn't get the answers he was looking for, but did connect a few times with the head of student affairs, Rev. Tom Doyle. Tom says that Doyle wasn't able to answer many questions because of fears that it would violate FERPA laws and the privacy of the accused student.

Tom Seeberg does see some hope in what lies ahead. The University of Notre Dame agreed on reforms with the Dept. of Education about future responses to sexual assault claims. Reforms include wrapping up administrative reviews within 60 days after allegations, and a ban on any communication between the accused and any third parties with parties involved in the allegation. Tom says these kinds of changes can hopefully help the next young woman who comes forward with an experience of sexual assault. He continues to do his part to raise awareness about the issue of sexual violence. On Wednesday, Tom and his wife will recieve the Visionary Award from Rape Victim Advocates. Tom says it's an honor but concedes that it's difficult considering the circumstances. But, hopefully, the event can help him and his family continue to move forward.