The XX Factor

What Everyone Can Learn From Ben Roethlisberger

I’ve been noodling over the Ben Roethlisberger story myself, Emily , and there are two things I can take away from it so far. First, regardless of his guilt or innocence, Roethlisberger’s a giant dumbass. While it’s easy to say there is a “pattern” of sexual assault accusations against him, the two cases are very different. Which I point out not to defend him but to indict him.

Yes, he’s been accused of rape in a civil suit filed against him by a woman in Lake Tahoe. But that woman didn’t go to the police and waited a year to file her civil complaint against him. A former colleague ratted her out for “bragging” about having sex with him. Roethlisberger, while unable to persuade a judge to dismiss the case, had the court of public opinion on his side and got through the NFL season seemingly not distracted by the claims.

Even if what happened at Lake Tahoe was consensual and he did nothing wrong, it should have been a wake-up call for him. Perhaps make him think twice before going on a pub crawl in a college town. Instead of making him more cautious, though, it’s almost as if it made him overconfident-that he could do anything and get away with it. Now he has put himself in a much more difficult situation. His accuser reported the incident to the police immediately. The Steelers, who pretty much ignored the civil suit, are ” concerned .” The police want to talk to him -and to his Nevada accuser. The sport is waiting for commissioner Roger Goodell, who’s notoriously tough on NFL miscreants, to weigh in.

Which brings me to my other takeaway. There’s an important lesson for women in this story (besides the obvious “beware of celebrity athletes”): If you are raped, report it. Call 911, find a cop (as the Georgia woman did), go to a hospital. It’s not a guarantee that your attacker will be caught or prosecuted or convicted, but it’s going to help your case far more than waiting a year and then lawyering up for a civil suit. Certainly this woman is being taken more seriously because she’s not the first one. But at least some of it has to be that she filed a criminal complaint and isn’t looking for money.

It’s not easy, and I’m not speaking abstractly of something I know nothing about. I’ve been there. You have to tell multiple people what happened to you, multiple times. You have to share personal and awkward details that you probably haven’t had time to cope with. You might have to undergo an exam that forces you to surrender what little is left of your dignity. But it’s the only way to prove, without a doubt, that something terrible happened to you and to give authorities what they need to find your attacker. And it’s the only way to keep him from doing it to others.