If you follow American football (or Dancing with the Stars), you are likely familiar with sportscaster Erin Andrews—and possibly the stalking incident for which she is currently embroiled in a $75 million lawsuit. If not, I’ll fill you in. In 2008, when Andrews was still reporting for ESPN, a 46-year-old man named Michael David Barrett followed Andrews to a hotel in Nashville, requested to be placed in a room next to hers, and then proceeded to secretly film her through the peephole of her hotel room door. Later, the stalker uploaded the video, which included nude footage, online where it was viewed 17 million times. Barrett also filmed her at the Radisson Airport Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but the video was never published.
Andrew’s stalker later served 30 months in jail for his crimes. But in October 2015, Andrews filed a complaint seeking $75 million in damages from the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, the hotel’s owner, the management company, and Barrett himself. (If you wonder why the hotel is being sued, it's because they gave Barrett her room number, and let him have the room next to hers at his request.) Andrews testified on the matter earlier this week.
Andrews' testimony was both heartrending and revelatory. As many journalists have reported, Andrews broke down as she recounted the moment she discovered the video, shedding light on the innate trauma of such a cataclysmic breach of privacy. But Andrews also revealed that much of the suffering she endured—and continues to endure—came after the initial incident.
Andrews explained that, for months after the video went viral, she was accused of having orchestrated the whole story in order to drum up publicity. “The front page of the New York Post said ‘ESPN Scandal,’” she recalls. But her troubles did not end when it became clear that she played no part in the film's distribution. No, according to Andrews’ testimony, she is forced to relive the traumatic event daily. “I feel so ashamed,” she explained, “This happens every day of my life. Either I get a tweet, or somebody makes a comment in the paper, or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter, or somebody screams it at me in the stands. And I’m right back to this.”
It’s not hard to verify Andrews’ claim. I won’t link to it, but a quick search for “Erin Andrews” on Twitter reveals a slew of insults directed as the sportscaster.
That Andrews was unrightfully exposed in such a way is abhorrent in and of itself, but the verbal abuse that Andrews has received on social media and in public is troubling, particularly because her traumatic violation of privacy is being used to question her character and her talent as a sportscaster.
Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Andrews works in the public eye, as a journalist in the emotionally charged world of American sports. Anyone who follows professional or collegiate football knows that sportscasters are under intense scrutiny. Why? Because people care how their teams are portrayed in the media. As a very successful sportscaster, many now think they have reason to discredit her perspective. And people are capitalizing on her public embarrassment in order to do so.
But I think we ought to take this a step further. It's easy to point out that Erin Andrews truthfully did nothing to warrant reproach in these circumstances and, therefore, does not deserve blowback from the incident. But even if she had filmed and uploaded the video herself, using sexist slurs in an attempt to dismiss her would still be both nonsensical and uncharitable. And I think the fact that so many of us are so quick to do so reveals a disturbing trend in our culture. A man violated a woman, but somehow we seem to put the attention and blame on the woman.
That Andrews' nudity is still being used against her as a means of questioning her virtue and dismissing her insights professionally says a lot about the way that we use sexuality to sideline and shame women into silence.
So, let it be known: If a woman has been violated, as Andrews has, all it reveals is that there's horrible, exploitative people out there willing to hurt others who don't deserve it. It says nothing about Andrews as a woman, sportscaster, or human being. She is not at fault; if anything, her standing up and refusing to be silent is remarkably laudable. I hope she wins all $75 million, and that it goes toward whatever she needs to make her days less traumatizing from that egregious violation. And I hope one day we'll start holding perpetrators responsible for their crimes and not the victims—not only in the courtroom but in the court of public opinion.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons