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Big Ben and the Emerging Pattern

April 19, 2010

I’m not a jury. Innocent until proven guilty is a rule for the finder of fact. I am a member of the public, and I write for a blog, and I call ’em like I see ’em. The way I see it, anyone who went out of a limb defending Roethlisberger is either nervous about that cracking noise, or has thrown in full-on with the pro-rape lobby. (There is one. I’ll get back to that.)

Back when Jaclyn wrote about the first public accusation that Roethlisberger raped a woman, there was a whole lot of dismissal and denial. Now, anyone reading the news knows that there is a second complainant. And, careful readers know that there is an allegation by a third woman, but she has refused to speak to police about it.

Forbes has some coverage. Here’s what is circulating so far: Roethlisberger went out with an entourage to a sports bar in Milledgeville, Georgia. He met and took photos with many people, including a local police officer and many college students. One of the college students that he met and took a bright, smiling, celeb photo with was a twenty year old woman, at the bar with some of her sorority sisters. What she says:
[Trigger warning for the material below the jump, which describes the rape.]

In a statement to police on March 5, the young woman said Roethlisberger encouraged her and her friends to do numerous shots. Then one of his bodyguards escorted her into a hallway at the Capital City nightclub, sat her on a stool and left. She said Roethlisberger walked down the hallway and exposed himself.

“I told him it wasn’t OK, no, we don’t need to do this and I proceeded to get up and try to leave,” she said, according to the police documents. “I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom.”
According to her statement, Roethlisberger then followed her into the bathroom and shut the door.
“I still said no, this is not OK, and he then had sex with me,” she wrote. “He said it was OK. He then left without saying anything.”

[Emphasis supplied.]

I’ve bolded passages because these things stand out as matching the modus operandi of the undetected serial rapists studied by Professor David Lisak, whose findings on rape I call the Predator Theory. Lisak describes how they operate:

In the course of 20 years of interviewing these undetected rapists, in both research and forensic settings, it has been possible for me to distill some of the common characteristics of the modus operandi of these sex offenders. These undetected rapists:
• are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
• plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
• use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse
control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;
use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;
use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

[Emphasis mine.]

Roethlisberger, being a celebrity, has a steady stream of people try to meet him. Some of them will be young women. If he goes out to bars and meets the locals, it is easy to meet young women in an environment where encouraging them to drink passes without notice. Then he can assess which ones will harder and easier targets.

(Note that this should not be confused with behavior necessary for him to get consenting partners. If that’s what he wanted, he could simply put a sign-up sheet on a facebook fan page. He’s a star NFL quarterback. He doesn’t have time for all the willing partners he can find.)

Her friend described the bodyguards’ suspicious behavior:

Ann Marie Lubatti told police she approached one of Roethlisberger’s two bodyguards and said, “This isn’t right. My friend is back there with Ben. She needs to come back right now.”

She said the bodyguard wouldn’t look her in the eye and said he didn’t know what she was talking about.

[Emphasis supplied.]

That reminds me of the guy who blocked the bottom of the stairs in the D.C. case I recently wrote about:

“So I go to the steps,” Sade testified in a deposition. “I move [the barricade],” she said. “I’m walking up the steps, and Tito like just comes behind me. He grabs my arm…and he literally like brings me back down the steps.…And I’m like get off me, what are you talking about?” The three girls gathered around Tito and told them they were just looking for their friend; Tito explained that he’d been hired to keep people from reaching the second floor…

After five minutes of yelling, the girls insisted that Tito go up the stairs to look for her himself. Tito testified that he climbed the stairs, saw an empty bathroom and some locked bedroom doors—but no Hannah—and reoccupied his post at the foot of the stairs. When he returned, “he was sweating,” Kerston testified. “I remember him taking off his hat and rubbing, like wiping his forehead and he was just like shaking his head.…Just sitting there, sweating.” In her deposition, Sade testified, “Tito looked nervous, like he knew that something was going on that shouldn’t have been going on,” she said. “I know Tito knew her before this, so maybe his conscience was getting to him or something.…

[Emphasis supplied.]

I said above that careful readers know about the third accuser:

The documents also show that after the college student’s accusations surfaced, a 16-year-old in a youth law enforcement program run by the Milledgeville police told authorities he had been told about incidents involving Roethlisberger and a friend’s sister. The 16-year-old told police the woman’s brother told him that Roethlisberger twice made unwanted sexual advances.

Authorities repeatedly tried to interview the woman, who is in her early 20s, but she declined. A message seeking comment was left Friday with Roethlisberger’s lawyer, Ed Garland.

Gee, I wonder why she wouldn’t want to talk about it. Maybe because Roethlisberger’s bodyguard who allegedly dragged the young student down the hall to a private room when she was drunk, Anthony Barravecchio, is a former DEA agent and current cop in a Pittsburgh suburb. Maybe because the other bodyguard there at the time was Pennsylvania state cop Ed Joyner. Maybe because the only cop who took statements in the Georgia incident had taken a picture with Big Ben earlier that day, and then made derogatory statements about the accuser where Roethlisberger’s entourage could hear him, while still investigating. By the way, nice policework, Sergeant Blash:

On Friday, Milledgeville Police Chief Woodrow Blue confirmed that Sgt. Jerry Blash, the officer who took the first report from Roethlisberger’s accuser, resigned from the force Wednesday, a day before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation released the case documents.

The documents show Blash acknowledged to investigators that he made derogatory statements about Roethlisberger’s accuser to other officers and that some in Roethlisberger’s party may have overheard him. He was the only officer to interview Roethlisberger, with whom he had posed for pictures earlier in the night. Calls to a number listed for him rang unanswered Thursday evening and Friday.

(Because the cops always immediately and openly take the side of the accused in, say, liquor store robberies, right?)

Or maybe the third woman was afraid of the death threats, or of having the back-Ben-no-matter-what brigade get her name and photo and make death threats, as has happened to the first accuser. I’m not linking to the photos, or the defaced photos; and that she had the courage not to withdraw her complaint in the face of death threats is remarkable.

So what about that first accuser? Well, if Ben Roethlisberger were one of those serial rapists that Lisak has studied, we could expect him to be good at selecting victims and creating situations so that he could get away with a rape. He would leverage his celebrity, and find someone who was really eager to meet him, who maybe was a longtime fan or told her friends she had a crush on him or whatever, so that if she ever said anything he could say it was consensual and she wanted him; or that she was a crazy stalker, or some other story that throws doubt on her credibility. Since he’s a star, places like Harrah’s would help him hush it up. The cops that travel with him and cover for him could help smooth things over if the police ever became involved. And if any accuser stuck to her guns, the fans could be counted on to try to intimidate her, and Ben could disown and disclaim their actions even as they helped him get the accusers to refuse to cooperate with the police.

The Georgia case will not be criminal. The police work is hopelessly botched and I doubt the accuser has any confidence in the process. But how many times does the public have to hear the same story before reaching a conclusion about the character of the man?

So about that pro-rape lobby. Recently I wrote a comment on Amanda Hess’s Washington Citypaper blog — I’m a big fan of hers, as she combines huge reporter chops with most excellent snark — that she elevated to the text of a post:

What is clear from this thread and others is that there is a very real pro-rape lobby. They talk the language of disbelieving, but when push comes to shove . . . these trolls really do understand that women get raped when they are most vulnerable—but they are in favor of it. Whether they are actually men who hate women, or are women who hate other women, we can’t know. There are a number of possible motives for these sentiments. But they’re not really in denial—that’s a facade they drop when pressed. In fact, they’re just pro-rape. They think it ought to be open-season for predators on certain women in certain circumstances.

[Emphasis supplied.]

As the number of accusations mounts, and the accusations themselves look like classic engineered acquaintance rape situations — pick victims with little recourse and/or use alcohol, test boundaries, physically isolate, deny — there may be some people stupid enough not to see it. But mostly those who choose not to see it are those who don’t want to see the problem because they’re in favor of the problem. They think that any woman who wanders too close to Big Ben is a very bad girl and deserves something of his stuck up something of hers whether she wants it or not. The serial rapists themselves may be a small percentage, but the number of people who are basically their fan club is large enough to allow them to operate with impunity for a good long time.

Finally, Roger Goodell should really think about affirmative consent as a model for appropriate behavior. The league already exercises a lot of authority in players’ private conduct, and is willing to punish players for embarrassing the league even if they are not found guilty of any crime. As long as that’s true, the NFL can impose a stricter standard of sexual conduct, and can and should tell players that they have a personal responsibility to ensure the consent of any sex partner.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2010 7:01 am

    This is an excellent, excellent post. There are so many structural reasons for rape in sports culture. Personally, I have friends who went to school with Roethlisberger at Miami Ohio who have said that he was the same in college. And then there are sites like Deadspin that ridicule and chastise Roethlisberger while simultaneously promoting rape and misogyny. It’s spectacularly fucked.

  2. Queen Aeron permalink
    April 22, 2010 9:27 am

    I was surprised that Goddell ended up giving him 6 games. That is almost half a season. I seriously thought it would be 2 or 3, which is what the sports pundits thought. I too am a firm believer in “Innocent until proven guilty” and that it is the prosecutor’s job to convict, not the defense to prove innocence. But having said all that, with everything I have learned since reading this blog and other blogs about rape culture, it is a wonder any man is convicted for rape.

    I do believe that if Roethlisberger had been charged, he’d have been suspended for more games or even the entire season. But unlike Pacman Jones and some of the others who have been suspended for entire seasons, Ben hasn’t had any convictions or even charges. While he is establishing a pattern of problems, (HA!), it wasn’t as “severe” as the others. I am in NO WAY saying that Roethlisberger’s crimes are any less important than the others, but the pattern is only emerging. I do believe it if it keeps up, the Rooney’s will cut him and Gooddell will suspend him for a whole season. So far, I don’t believe any player has been banned permanently, but it is always a possiblilty.

    • Spiffy McBang permalink
      April 23, 2010 2:16 pm

      “So far, I don’t believe any player has been banned permanently, but it is always a possiblilty.”

      Not officially, but Pacman’s punishment has become almost a de facto ban.

      The thing that makes me spit fire about this is that a lot of sportswriters refuse to acknowledge that Roethlisberger is “probably” guilty or that despite the lack of criminal charges, his actual innocence is doubtful at best. Those are massive understatements given the information released, yet the majority I read still focus on the criminal charges, like they don’t know how to think outside of that- even the writers who repeatedly talk about their daughters.

      Jason Cole at Yahoo went so far as to state that he had “not committed a crime”. If he said not convicted, that would be correct, but that slight shift is the kind of thing that speaks to one’s mindset. He’s equating lack of conviction with lack of absolute guilt, not just giving Roethlisberger the benefit of the doubt. I was actually driven to write Peter King and Michael Silver (main football writers at SI and Yahoo respectively) to ask why sportswriters do this, but as expected I got no response.

      And yet, while this is all disheartening, the way it’s spoken about suggests that 95% of these guys just don’t understand the problem. That’s not to argue against the pro-rape lobby concept; it’s unfortunate that I wonder if Michael Wilbon, who I’m a big fan of, might be included in that group. But I think that if people went after sportswriters with questions about why they won’t handle these assault cases based on obtainable information instead of adhering to the machinations of the court system, we could convince many of them to view these problems differently. And if just a few major writers took a harder stance towards rape, that would influence literally millions of people.

  3. Cat permalink
    April 23, 2010 11:18 am

    I have found myself in a tough place in my own head with the “innocent until proven guilty” issue. As someone who has a loved one wrongly accused of a crime (not in any way related to sexual assault) I will fight tooth and nail to protect him and remind people that charges do not equal guilt or conviction. But I find this to be completely different.

    But my reason for responding is because of this article I read this morning from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    In it, the reported quoted a licensed clinical and sports psychologist , John Murray.

    My boss (male) sent the article to me after we found ourselves in a bit of a verbal sparring match over the idea of “innocent until proven guilty” and how this pattern of behavior is really only being supported or encouraged by him being suspended rather than a harsher punishment…and when I suggested that his propensity for sexually assaulting women would make him a liability to any team he may be traded to, I was informed that his QB skills far outweigh any concern there. Outstanding. It was not a pretty discussion.

    Anyway, Dr. Murray is quoted as saying:

    “He said neuropsychological testing would probably be used to determine if there was any damage to Mr. Roethlisberger’s frontal lobe, known as a human’s emotional control center, because, among other functions, it controls judgment, impulse control and social and sexual behavior. Such testing would be apropos given Mr. Roethlisberger’s 2006 motorcycle accident when he wasn’t wearing a helmet, concussions he has suffered during his playing days and allegations of his behavior in Georgia.”

    I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. I don’t think his behavior should be dismissed. And while I am curious as to whether a brain injury could result in such behavior or inability to control such behavior, I don’t think it excuses it. It seems to be just another excuse. While I think it would be horrible if his injuries did have some impact on his behaviors and ability to control himself, it certainly doesn’t make it okay.

    I’m not sure I have a point…it’s all a bit of a ramble, but I wanted to pass along the article to see what others think…

    • Emily permalink
      April 27, 2010 12:17 pm


      Although there could be legitimate issues with a damaged frontal lobe, I’m hesitant – this seems ripe for abuse. It would depend on what areas are damaged, if any, and in what ways. An examination of past behavior seems pertinent to me – if his behavior is relatively constant before and after the accident, it seems unlikely that any damage sustained would lead to rape.

      I’m no expert by any means, but I’d wonder how frontal lobe damage would impact an individual’s control of this one aspect of behavior – controlling sexual impulses.

      Which insinuates that rape is about sexual urges which can’t be controlled, which isn’t what rape is about at all.

      As a disclaimer: I say these things as a college student who’s taken neuroscience courses, so I know a few things, but not a lot of things. With my current knowledge, I just don’t understand how frontal lobe damage could be accepted as an excuse for said behavior, especially if behavior isn’t impacted in other ways.

  4. Emily permalink
    April 24, 2010 10:43 pm

    Fantastic post; thank you for this.

    @B Michael – I, too, have close relationships with people who were at Miami of Ohio when he was and have said the same things.

    I do realize how unscientific that is – people can and do say anything and everything – but I think that it’s not surprising at all that he is rumored to have behaved similarly in college. I could get into an analysis, but I feel like that has already been done, both in this post and others. Interesting thoughts, though.

  5. April 29, 2010 5:22 pm

    I’ve been getting a lot of people bringing up the “innocent until proven guilty” thing as well. As with Cat, this tears me. At the same time, I do think there is a difference between not being found guilty and being found innocent. I do think we are allowed to judge people on a pattern of behaviour that does not rise to the level of criminal prosecution.


  1. And Frank Deford Wonders Why Women “Aren’t Into Sports,” or the Curious Case of the Ben Roethlisberger Rape Apologist « Lillian Lemoning

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