Sportscaster Erin Andrews Testifies in Case of Horrendous Victim-Shaming

This is all sorts of awful. Former ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews was forced to relive her sexual assault this week, as she took the stand for her civil suit against the hotel where she was unknowingly videotaped naked. She also revealed how her former employer forced her to do "damage control" with a national media interview by making her choose between keeping her job and talking openly about being violated.

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Isn't that what we call victim-shaming? Andrews broke down in tears as she described the terrible choice she was forced to make in the aftermath of being sexually abused, and how it made her violated all over again.

In 2009, Andrews became the victim of sexual harassment and online stalking when Michael David Barrett posted a nude video of her online, which he had filmed without her consent through a peephole in the hotel she was staying. On October 2 of that year, months after the video went live, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to interstate stalking.

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Andrews broke down during her civil suit testimony against the Nashville hotel where it happened on Monday, and I can't blame her a bit. She tearfully explained that ESPN (her employer at the time) made her go on TV and publicly state that she had not filmed the peepshow herself as a publicity stunt.

Because they were able to catch Barrett immediately, Andrews said that "everybody" thought she had orchestrated the video herself. "Probably for like three months, everybody thought it was a publicity stunt," she explained.

That included ESPN, according to her testimony. According to Erin (ESPN declined to comment), her bosses told her, "before you go back on air for college football we need you to give a sit-down interview." Why? Why would she need to do that?

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At least they let her choose her venue, although they apparently pressed Good Morning America pretty hard, as ABC owns ESPN. Despite the pressure, Andrews eventually decided to talk on-air with Oprah. She said that she made the choice because Oprah has been open about being a crime victim, and she thought that she'd be more compassionate.

In August 2009, Andrews filmed the interview with Oprah, which would air on September 11 of that year. In her testimony this week, she recalled that experience was so traumatic that she broke out in a rash during taping. She said that she bawled in the green room, where she was waiting with her parents to start the interview.

The talk show host was able to put her a bit at ease, thankfully. She remembered, "I think her producer had heard me crying, and all of a sudden in walked Oprah, in her slippers, and her butterfly eyelashes. I didn't have time to get up out of the chair, and she walked over to me, and I was hysterical. And she said, 'I've got you, you're safe here. I'll take care of you.' And I did the interview."

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ESPN did let her come back to work after that, but it's an experience that obviously traumatized her further. And for what point? What does this teach other women watching, who may have been abused in some way? Why would anyone come forward in such a hostile environment to confront their abuser?

Even now, the victim-shaming continues. During the cross examination, the defense for the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University insinuated that the naked videos helped Andrews's career. She has been very clear that she's suing the hotel for the "severe and permanent emotional distress" she endured thanks to their negligence in allowing Barrett access to her room to set up the peepshow camera.

Defense attorney Marc Dedman asked if she had done well in her career since 2009, to which she answered yes. You know, because she wouldn't rather have her dignity and privacy intact. And maybe -- just maybe -- the reason she's done so well is because she's good at her job, not because there are nude videos of her online.

Andrews didn't have a choice to keep quiet or not, since her video was put on the Internet for all to see. But no one who has been traumatized should feel the need to keep quiet, or risk being abused further by being victim-blamed.

Bravo to Erin for speaking out about this. It's never too late to stand up for yourself.

 

Image via CV imageSPACE/Splash News

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