Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Let's not be so quick to judge in 'woman vs. Ben Roethlisberger'

A woman has filed a civil lawsuit against Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, accusing him of raping her last July. His attorney denies it happened.

The details of the case have been coming out all day. Sounds like she's suing for the assault, and she's also suing her workplace (Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, where the alleged incident took place) for covering it up. The suit also says she's suing for libel and slander. (Read more at USA Today and the NY Times. and the Post-Gazette, whose story has a lot of details from the lawsuit.)

One thing is for sure: No matter how this case turns out, it's going to be bad.

There's a whole host of topics that need discussed here. Why is this woman's name all over the place? Is it because it's a civil lawsuit, not a criminal case? Of all the stories I've read so far, the New York Times' and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's stories are the only ones I've seen that didn't publish her name. Why does TMZ have a photo gallery of her? It looks like they stole photos she had on a social networking site and posted them. And why does everyone immediately jump to the conclusion that this woman is making this up/just looking to get some money? Not even a small pause to consider that something might have happened, nope. Immediately, she's just "seeking a paycheck."

When a professional athlete or celebrity is accused of something like this, I get that it can be easy to jump in and defend them. "Surely Big Ben would never do something like this," one might think. And maybe he didn't. But it's not impossible. Lots of people have committed such acts, and you hardly ever hear someone say "well of course he raped that girl, that's Bob for ya!"

That's why this story is angering, regardless of the outcome. If this girl is lying, shame on her. I know women do falsely accuse men of sexual assault (though not as often as some seem to think), and it's a horrible act. It's already hard enough to get our judicial system and society as whole to take sexual violence against women as seriously as they should, and false accusations have a powerful way of crippling any progress made.

If she's not lying, shame on everyone who jumped to that conclusion without a second thought (and shame on Big Ben, obviously). You simply cannot make that assumption every time a woman says she was assaulted. Even if the accused is someone famous. (You think no famous person has ever committed sexual assault, ever? Think again. It happens.) How many times do you hear someone defend another person who's been accused of something by saying "Hey, why don't we wait until this gets decided in court before jumping to conclusions. You know, that whole innocent until proven guilty thing." Why does a similar principle not apply here? Why can't we wait and see if this woman is telling the truth, without having to drag her through the mud first? How long until her entire sexual history is splattered all over the Internet?

What if she is telling the truth?

I'd guess a number of people recall the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant when they hear about the case filed against Roethlisberger. Remember what that woman went through in that case? It was ugly. No doubt this one will be too.

People already have all kinds of theories as to why this accusation can't be true. She didn't file a criminal case, therefore it didn't happen. She's "ugly" and Big Ben can "get" any girl he wants, so he would never "have to rape" this girl to get sex. She made it up to make a lot of money. Etc. Granted, the last is possible, technically speaking, even though there's no real reason I can see to believe it. But not filing a criminal case doesn't automatically mean a criminal act didn't take place. The evidence might not be enough to file a criminal case (and lack of evidence doesn't necessarily mean nothing happened), or the state could have decided not to take the case (this happens often in sexual assault cases, remember it's the state filing charges against the accused, not the person assaulted). As for the theory that Big Ben can "get" any girl he wants, here's some news for those people: rape isn't about sex. I think we would all assume that if he wanted sex, he could find a willing participant. Rape is about power over another person. Oh, and by the way, this girl isn't ugly. She's a perfectly normal looking girl. But even if she were "ugly," what does that prove? Nothing.

I want to end this by saying I don't have any real opinion one way or the other right now as to what happened. Just gonna wait and see. I usually lean toward the woman in these cases, mainly because I can't imagine anyone wanting to put themselves through this just for money. This suit has a lot of details about the woman's employer's role in this, and Harrah's isn't exactly some small company to take on either, even if it were a "normal" person she was accusing. She's not just dealing with Ben, she's also dealing with Harrah's. I don't want women to lie about these matters. Not a one. So I hope she isn't lying. Only that sounds weird, because I don't "want" for her to have been raped, by him or anyone. However, if she was, the truth should come out, and she should not be vilified in the process just because a professional athlete is named.

To give you a sample of what I keep seeing on the Internet about this, here are a couple of comments by some really lovely people on the Internet (from TMZ's site):
  • "eww she is so fuckin ugly. there is no way he raped her ugly ass. Hey remember this is a cival lawsuit so it is about the money people. plus people are jeolous because the steelers are number 1. plus the steelers won fucken 5 superbowl fair and square fucken asholes. watch the fucken replay asholes. cry me a fucken river."
  • "single mom looking to win some cash! whore"
  • "When you are raped dont you report it right away or are you suposed to wait a year till your broke. If ben did her and he was my boy Ide have to bitch slap him. chicks ugly as hell"
  • "This woman is an idiotic liar. If you are raped CALL THE POLICE. Ben better not give her a penny. Plus she's ugly too."
Sigh. I hope no one they know is ever raped.

A couple additional stories:
  • ESPN isn't reporting the story, from Deadspin
  • Excerpts from the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy that could apply in this case, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
  • A Bleacher Report columnist talks about this story as related to "junk journalists."
OK, one final thought: If Roethlisberger were to be found guilty, why do I feel like there will be less outrage against him than there was when the news came out about Michael Vick and his dogs?

1 comment:

Razor said...

"the steelers won fucken 5 superbowl fair and square fucken asholes. watch the fucken replay asholes. cry me a fucken river."

Je... sus... Christ.


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