A surprising number of people have asked me if my strong aversion to offensive tackle Taylor Lewan was based more on his affiliation with the University of Michigan than the fact that he reportedly threatened an alleged rape victim with more rape if she pursued charges against his roommate for the original alleged rape. I'm just really against everything related to sexual assault in general, and that's why I have reservations about the Falcons' decision to draft linebacker Prince Shembo.
If you're not familiar with the story, Shembo was accused of sexual battery by a female student at St. Mary's University named Lizzy Seeberg. Seeberg reported the incident, which was alleged to have taken place on August 30, 2010, the day after the encounter. She then filed a report with university police. Shembo, for his part, was uncooperative, not responding to Notre Dame police attempts to contact him to obtain a statement.
Shembo's roommate and friend texted Seeberg, and I quote, "Don't do anything you would regret. Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea." Now, this was Shembo's friend and teammate, not Shembo. I wouldn't want that guy on my team, either, for the record. The text was sent to and received by Seeberg on September 2, 2010.
The most tragic part of this story is that Seeberg committed suicide less than two weeks after the sexual assault allegedly took place. Shembo was not charged with a crime, in part because the only witness was dead, and therefore statements made prior to her death would be considered hearsay and thus inadmissible.
The prosecutor in South Bend also released a statement indicating that there were conflicting reports from witnesses that kept this case from being prosecuted. I can't access the police report or any of the complementary evidence because it was all handled in-house at Notre Dame and is protected . Interestingly enough, Seeberg's parents have also been denied access to the evidence Notre Dame provided to prosecutors who decided to not follow through with charging Shembo with sexual battery. If Seeberg were alive, she could request and receive the evidence, but she's not.
There are a few facts people toss around in Shembo's defense. The first is that he did not actually rape Seeberg, nor was he ever accused of rape. Does that make it less wrong to force a woman into any sort of unwanted sexual contact? Dismissing unwanted sexual contact as being less wrong because it isn't rape certainly contributes to the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our culture.
Lizzy Seeberg suffered from anxiety and depression and had been treated for both beginning well prior to the incident with Shembo, and this is another thing that's used against Seeberg and in defense of Shembo. A lot of people suffer from anxiety and depression. I fail to understand how anxiety or depression in the alleged victim can be used to justify sexual assault. It's also generally understood that anxiety and depression make a victim less likely to report sexual assault because of the stress and attention that accompany the process.
One of the most confusing factors in this case is that Lizzy Seeberg did everything right from a law enforcement perspective. She reported the incident in a timely fashion. She completed the appropriate medical testing for evidentiary purposes and provided written statements and evidence to police. Notre Dame police did not speak with Shembo to obtain a statement until after Seeberg's death. There was no sense of urgency to establish the facts in this case and pursue justice if it was warranted.
I'm certainly aware that false accusations are made all the time (for example, Brian Banks), and that is disgusting. In my opinion, making a false accusation of rape or sexual assault is very nearly on par with perpetrating sexual assault, primarily because it's just grossly wrong, and it also makes it that much easier for law enforcement and the general public to not take actual victims seriously.
I also wholly believe that anyone who is accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. We'll never know if Shembo's side of the story is true or if his name would have been cleared through the legal process, because the alleged victim committed suicide and her statements and all evidence she submitted to Notre Dame police were rendered irrelevant. Had this case been prosecuted and Shembo's name cleared through that process, as opposed to a closed university disciplinary hearing, I would feel more comfortable with the whole thing.
Thomas Dimitroff did address this issue when speaking to the media over the weekend. Obviously, NFL teams have pretty vast resources for prospect analysis, and surely the Falcons' background research process is exhaustive. I do have confidence that the team did their due diligence when making the decision to draft Shembo.
Shembo hasn't shied away from the topic, either, after years of silence on the issue imposed by Notre Dame. He initiated conversation about it at the NFL Combine, and he addressed it with the media after being drafted by the Falcons. He maintains his innocence.
The bottom line is that it's a tragic situation, and there's no way to know what really happened. Notre Dame has kept the evidence and the details close to the vest, and Lizzy Seeberg's suicide eliminated the opportunity to prosecute the case. The Falcons have maintained very strict standards of character throughout the Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith era, and it is confusing, frankly, that they would deviate from those standards for a player who has faced this type of allegation, particularly considering the outcome. They must be extremely confident that his side of the story is true. I genuinely wish I shared their confidence.