Samhita is rightly bothered by the unfortunate, predictable response (and ESPN’s non-coverage) of the lawsuit against Pittsburgh Steeler’s QB Ben Roethlisberger for an alleged rape.
We can still evaluate the way the media portrays women when they bring about rape charges, the extent to which the general public will defend and accept athletes that have been accused (or down right guilty) of sexual assault, sexual abuse and/or domestic violence and lastly, why ESPN has failed to cover the story.
The story has only been out a few days, but people are already asking if she is “woman scorned,” or comments on news sites continue to decry that she is “crazy and imagined it.” Rape apologists will deny anything that makes their heroes look bad, but the evidence is clear, when a woman brings up a rape lawsuit publicly, she is considered guilty of lying or is deemed “crazy,” “delusional” or “money hungry” before given any legal proceedings whatsoever.
Specifically in the arena of sports, rape apologisms permeate in damaging ways. …
Whether ESPN did it intentionally or not, failing to cover this case indicates that they have already taken a side. Let’s not let the American public get away with another butchering of a public rape case.
ESPN’s silence looks especially damning when one considers just how much airtime they typically give to athlete’s legal issues. Still, I wonder if there is a just or equitable way to cover high-profile (or any) rape cases. Obviously, the “accuser is crazy/an extortionist” defense will be made by plenty of fans and people with a vested interest in the suspect’s exoneration, regardless of the facts (or a dearth of them). But the coverage is often unavoidably prejudicial the other way. While the accuser’s identity is (understandably and necessarily) protected, we see b-roll of the defendant solemnly arriving at the courthouse in an understated suit and being mobbed by a throng of reporters while the charges against him are outlined by the newscaster. He doesn’t speak on his lawyer’s orders. Mug shots surface. He seems…guilty.
These messy public conversations about an athlete’s guilt or innocence in rape cases reflect the way actual rape trials play out. When there is an absence of physical evidence — as is very often the case — rape trials necessarily become about damaging the other side’s credibility. No matter the verdict in those cases, there’s plenty of fresh anger and little resolution. How, exactly, do we fix that?
UPDATE: In comments, NinaG points us to a helpful post at YesMeansYes that explains why the woman in this case might be going forward with a civil case and not a criminal one (and the post itself has some enlightening comments from people speaking from personal experience).