Sportscaster Erin Andrews is in court this week, suing her convicted stalker Michael David Barrett, the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University, and the hotel’s owner and management company for $75 million in damages.
In 2008, Barrett requested a room next to Andrews’ at the Nashville Marriott, was granted the request, and then drilled a peephole hole into her room, filmed her naked, and leaked the video online. He did the same at hotels in Columbus, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Barrett plead guilty to interstate stalking charges in 2009 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
On the stand, Andrews has talked candidly about the heartbreak and helplessness she felt in the aftermath of the incident, and feels even still today. As a result, the trial has provided a devastating look at the pervasiveness of sexism in society, particularly in sports media, and the havoc it wreaks.
After the naked footage went viral online in 2009, the media ran with it — many implying, or explicitly saying, that it was merely a publicity stunt.
“The front page of the New York Post said ‘ESPN Scandal.’ To Fox News and CBS, everybody put up that I was doing it for publicity and attention, and that ripped me apart,” she testified.
Then, Andrews alleges that ESPN — her employer at the time — forced her to go onto national television and give a sit-down interview about the incident. “[T]hat was the only way I was going to be allowed back [on air],” she said. Though she didn’t want to, Andrews eventually gave an interview on Oprah about the violation. (ESPN maintains that it was supportive of Andrews throughout.)
Now, attorneys representing the defense are asserting that Andrews has made more money in her career as a result of this crime. As Andrews was being questioned in detail about her contracts, first with ESPN, now with Fox and ABC, she broke down in tears.
Marriott's defense just asserted Erin Andrews made more money in her career as a result of the Barrett stalker video going viral. Disgusting
— Exavier Pope (@exavierpope) March 1, 2016
There has been a clear thread of victim-blaming since the instant the video of Andrews hit the internet. First, the media decided she had to be asking for it. Then she was forced to apologize and explain herself. Now that she’s overcome and built an impressive career after the crime, the defense is trying to punish her for that too.
It’s yet another case full of examples of why women who have been victimized don’t seek justice — because the process is so unforgiving, even in cases like this one where there has been a guilty conviction and where it is more than apparent that she did nothing wrong.
As hard as it is to listen to Andrews talk about how she was treated by the media and her employers in the aftermath of this, it’s even more gut-wrenching to listen to how it has impacted her. Like so many victims before her, she has felt shame. She has questioned her role in the incident — Why didn’t she put on a robe when she was getting dressed in the hotel room?
“She’s mad,” her father, Steven Andrews, said during his testimony. “She’s terrified. She’s depressed. She cries. She’s full of anxiety. She’s a very, very changed person. She’s not the girl that we used to know at all.”
According to the Associated Press, Andrews was very emotional in court as her father recounted how she didn’t want to eat, bathe, or be around people after she discovered the video.
— Eric Alvarez (@FOX17Eric) February 29, 2016
Andrews also talked about the mental health issues she has suffered in the years since the incident.
“She says she suffers from depression, anxiety and sleepless nights. She’s nervous and fearful around strangers. She’s not able to move on because the incident somehow comes up ‘every single day’ of her life,” Sporting News reports.
Andrews was a rising star in the industry before this, and she’s a bonafide star now — not because a man violated her and put her naked body all over the internet, or because of the attention she received for it, but because despite all of this, she was able to focus on her job and persevere. And she is brave for being so open about her struggles, and for continuing to seek justice in a system that so-rarely provides it for women.
In her testimony on Monday, Andrews said her goal when she entered the industry was just to “get everybody’s respect” — something that is especially hard for women in sports media. “I wanted everybody to know I knew what I was taking about. I loved the game as much as they did, and I had the respect from athletes and coaches.”
Years later, even after all her successes, it’s clear that her fight for respect isn’t over.