Anyone who listens to the radio, watches TV, or reads the paper has probably heard about the issues surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the issues regarding a possible sexual assault he perpetrated on a young woman in Georgia. You probably have also heard that he will not be facing charges for this but that the NFL is considering some sanctions. On my drive to work this morning I heard a discussion of this very subject that made my blood run cold. The DJs on the station were discussing their views, a male and female thought Big Ben should be fired due to his public standing. The other male on the show was infuriated and believed that since no charges were being filed the NFL should not be involved at all. Several issues came up – the fact that this is actually the second time Roethlisberger has been accused of this type of crime, comparisons to Tiger Woods recent issues, and the idea that the young woman must be lying since the charges were dropped. This last piece is what made me so sad and scared for other women who may have experienced a sexual assault. What makes it even worse – it was put forth by a female caller to the station. There are so many myths about sexual assault in our culture that make it nearly impossible for a woman to feel able to report a crime and often leads to victim blaming and perpetrator worship.
One of the most commonly put forth theory on women who accuse famous people of sexual assault is that these women are lying to get money from the superstar. Unfortunately, the media has made a huge deal out of the two or three cases like this in the past decade of so, leading people to believe that this is the norm rather than the exception. No woman, I repeat, NO woman would want to make something like this up if she knew what the consequences would be for her. Going through a sexual assault trial is akin to being reassaulted. You will have to tell the story of your assault multiple times with a defense lawyer questioning every detail that you provide, hoping you’ll get confused about the details of what was most likely the most horrific experience of your life. If your case has made it to trial you have probably endured highly shaming examinations involving hair removal and pictures and met with dozens of police officers who may or may not have believed you. And heaven forbid there was any use of drugs or alcohol prior to your assault or that you may have had sexual contact with the perpetrator, or any other person, in the past.
The reality of this is that women who are assaulted avoid pressing charges because they know what will happen to them. Seventy-five percent of the assaults that occur are perpetrated by someone the woman knows and most likely has been intimate with in the past. Alcohol is the most popular date-rape drug available. And officials estimate that approximately 85% of assaults go unreported. I constantly hear women who have never been assaulted say, “If someone did that to me, I would go after him with everything in my power.” Unfortunately, these women usually don’t understand the results of a sexual assault. They don’t recognize that women who have been assaulted feel they have no power and that something they did most likely caused the assault to happen anyway. We as a society do not support the survivors of assaults by providing them safe places to make reports and then believing them when it happens. And when the case makes it to trial, we require that the victim revictimize herself in order for the perpetrator to most likely be found not guilty. I have spent years working with victims of sexual assault, trying to show them that making bad decisions does not allow someone to rape them. Rape is not a physical crime, so much as a destruction of another person’s soul. And our society makes that okay when we label the victims as liars or sluts or drunks and celebrate their famous perpetrators.