Roethlisberger Accused Of Rape, ESPN Says Nothing: "That's Rape Culture"S

Andrea McNulty, a hostess at a Lake Tahoe Harrah's, is suing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for raping her. So why did ESPN tell its reporters not to cover the suit?

McNulty says that when Roethlisberger was staying at Harrah's, he called her to his room claiming his TV was broken. When she got there, the TV was fine, and he pushed her onto the bed and raped her. When she reported the assault to security chief Guy Hyder, he said that the president of the casino was friends with the quarterback and that "most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger." McNulty was afraid to report the assault to the police, for fear that Harrah's higher-ups would side with Roethlisberger and she would be fired. She fell into a depression, and while she was hospitalized, Hyder got keys to her house from her parents, and deleted files from her computer. Needless to say, no one from Harrah's ever investigated the rape.

After the AP reported on McNulty's lawsuit, ESPN told reporters not to pick up the story, ostensibly because criminal charges had not been filed. ESPN news director Vince Doria said, "We don't think it meets our standard of reporting." But Mike Florio from NBC Sports says, "we're convinced that the Roethlisberger story initially was ignored due to concerns that ESPN would be jeopardizing its access to the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, who also happens to play for the team with the most loyal and rabid fan base in America."

Eventually ESPN did report on the civil suit, but at every step of the way, Ben Roethlisberger had friends with a vested interest in keeping McNulty's story quiet. And that, says Jaclyn Friedman of Yes Means Yes, "is what rape culture looks like." She points out that ESPN is "the same network whose sideline reporter is currently being exploited all over the ‘net in a peeping tom video." She continues,

You'd think that would make them more sympathetic to the sexual exploitation of women just trying to do their job, but they're too focused on protecting access to the star athletes who are their cash cows to even do their basic job as journalists. That's rape culture. When our media won't talk about rape, people think it doesn't happen, and the rapists face no consequences. That emboldens rapists.

Friedman also calls out Perez Hilton, who classily hints, "It is a little strange that she didn't press criminal charges and waited for a year (and a Superbowl win) before taking action," and says, "Eh, you'll probably just have to give her some money to shut her up." Friedman writes, "When women are too afraid of being re-victimized by the courts and the media to come forward, and when the public gets the message that women who accuse men of rape are lying or did something to deserve it, the cycle continues."

Oddly, G.D. at Feministe sees the media as having the opposite effect:

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.

It's true that being accused of a crime, even if you're later acquitted, can tarnish a celebrity's image. But remember when Kobe Bryant's accuser was found to have another man's semen in in her body (which wasn't directly relevant, since Bryant had admitted to sleeping with her)? Women who accuse powerful men of rape basically have to consent to public scrutiny of their sexual histories, and often get branded as sluts or golddiggers in the process. The media is hardly "unavoidably prejudicial" in their favor.

Kate Harding at Broadsheet has a disturbing prediction about how the rest of this case will go down:

Meanwhile, Roethlisberger's lawyer is telling journalists, "Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone; especially Andrea McNulty." Especially her? How the hell do you especially not rape someone? "These other women, I merely did not rape, but that one I extra super double did not rape!" Huh? Oh wait, I think I get it. I've got a dollar that says we're about to find out that he doesn't deny having sex with her, but she wanted it. And we all know most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with Ben Roethlisberger, and men totally only rape when they can't otherwise get laid, so why would he need to rape this one? Another dollar says the "especially" means we're also about to hear that dude, she's not even that hot — the same defense Kobe Bryant used — and nobody ever rapes ugly women, so there you go. It's her word against his, and really, who are you going to believe?

Unfortunately, many rape cases are "her word against his," and when the defendant is famous, a lot of people spend a lot of energy trying to discredit "her word." "Say it with me, folks," says Harding, "That's rape culture."

ESPN Finally Acknowledges Accusations Against Ben Roethlisberger [USA Today]
Suit Contends Hotel Covered Up Rape By Ben Roethlisberger [RGJ.com]
When Sports Culture Meets Rape Culture [Broadsheet]
This Is What Rape Culture Looks Like [Yes Means Yes]
Covering Rape [Feministe]
Last Word On ESPN's Civil Lawsuit Policy [NBC Sports]