Community deserves scorn for treatment of psychological illness — (The Badger Herald)

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The Badger Herald

by Casey Hoff

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Anyone with an ounce of compassion and understanding would never think of chastising or ridiculing someone with severe psychological or psychiatric issues. If you are someone who would, then you are truly an ignorant, cold-heartened, simpleton  and I’m going to offer some thoughts on just how vapid you are in this column. For the rest of you, kudos, and enjoy:
You probably remember Audrey Seiler, the 20-year-old University of Wisconsin sophomore who faked her own abduction in March 2004. Seiler went missing from her campus apartment on March 27 and was found four days later in a marsh near the Alliant Energy Center curled up in the fetal position. Police questioned Seiler, who claimed she was kidnapped at knifepoint, but who later confessed to having made up the whole story after videotape showed Seiler buying rope, duct tape and cold medicine that she had claimed was used against her in the abduction by her perpetrator. “I set up everything. I’m just so messed up. I’m sorry,” Seiler said. The event prompted a massive manhunt, international media attention, and $96,000 in police costs charged to the city of Madison. Seiler was convicted on two misdemeanor counts of obstructing police. She was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a portion of the police costs back.
Criticism was rampant on this campus, as many UW students and citizens of Madison were seething with hatred and rage at a 20-year-old woman who consequentially dropped out of UW-Madison in shame and moved back with her folks in Minnesota where she was undergoing intense psychiatric treatment. I remember going to the bars that night, hearing many people call Seiler a “stupid bitch” and a “dumb whore”. Some had masks of Audrey’s alleged kidnapper over their faces, laughing in a juvenile way at a seriously messed up, depressed woman. There was later a play that mocked the incident in Madison, called “Audrey Seiler, Where Are You?”
The media was no less brutal. For example, Tim Rollins, of Americandaily.com, said of Seiler, “Audrey Seiler wasn’t kidnapped at all it seems, but the whole story was a hoax  or rather  a pile of crap concocted by pathetic Audrey from the beginning.” He later referred to Ms. Seiler as a “sickening young 20-something”, an “uberbrat” and accused her of making up the story to get “15 minutes of fame.”
Seiler’s close friends and family from Minnesota were almost universally elated to have Audrey back, even though she put them through hell. The ones who were figuratively crucifying Seiler had absolutely no personal connection to Audrey’s situation. It’s true that most people would never consider faking abduction, but the cowards attacking her didn’t care to even consider Audrey’s psychological condition, and took the opportunity to bash a defenseless woman.
That brings me to UW-Green Bay student Jennifer Strasser, whose situation almost eerily parallels Audrey Seiler’s. Strasser was charged with obstruction of an officer last week after she was found with puncture wounds to her abdomen half a mile off of the campus’s arboretum trail. Strasser told police she had been attacked and stabbed by a man while running on the trail but later admitted that there was no perpetrator and the knife wounds had been self-inflicted.
 
Police later found a bloody, serrated knife in the kitchen of Ms. Strasser’s apartment. She is now facing $10,000 in fines and up to nine months in jail. Strasser told police that she had tried to over-medicate herself earlier in the day by taking a large dose of her anti-depressants and, according to Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski, “Certainly her mental health issues are a part of this case.” Jennifer Strasser has apologized to police, but a friend at UW-Green Bay has informed me that some outsiders at UWGB are organizing the same type of Seiler lynch mob against Strasser.
I am in no way saying that Audrey Seiler or Jennifer Strasser should not be held responsible for their actions, because to say so would open the door to a decriminalization of police obstruction. However, I am saying this about outsiders with personal animosity toward both women: you have to be absurdly arrogant to think that either woman was doing these things to offend you personally!
Both women certainly made huge mistakes that they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Both women ruined their college careers and apparently have severe psychiatric issues. Let the legal system work itself out, and stop degrading them further. The real pathetic losers in the situation are those who refuse to walk in these women’s shoes, but rather beat them while they are down in a brazen attempt to further destroy these women’s lives for whatever asinine, selfish reasons.
Casey Hoff (choff@badgerherald.com) is a UW student and host of “New Ground with Casey Hoff,” live Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m., on Madison 1670 The Pulse.