No, Stalking Victims Don’t “Ask For It”

In a very personal column talking about the video taken of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews in a hotel room without her consent, Washington Post sports columnist Tracee Hamilton opens up about a stalker who instilled fear and helplessness in her—feelings that still persist to this day. It’s a disturbing read, but one that puts into perspective the fact that this could happen to anyone—not just beautiful, blonde, sportscasters, and makes it perfectly clear why victims of stalkers do not “ask for it.”

Hamilton was stalked for two years by a man she met in school. He followed her around campus, sent her sexually explicit and threatening letters, called her without saying a word night after night, and, at least once, stationed himself outside her window all night, waiting for her to wake up. When she considered reporting her stalker to the police, she was told by school administrators that if she reported him, he might kill himself, so she was discouraged from doing so. Even worse, one night she got a phone call from a mental health professional who blamed her for “her boyfriend’s” (the stalker’s) unstable state of mind. She writes:

I still remember standing there, in the dark, phone in my hand, shaking, as [the therapist] went on and on about my ‘boyfriend’ and my poor treatment of him. You see, my boyfriend wasn’t in therapy. The ‘boyfriend’ he was describing was my stalker. Slowly it came to me: I was being chastised by a mental health professional for being mean to the man who was torturing me. And finally, I snapped.

She furthermore contends that although one might think that the video of Andrews going public is the worst part about this situation, this is not, in fact, the case:

Andrews also has to live with the knowledge that this man stalked her all over the country, that at times only a hotel door separated her from a clearly obsessed and disturbed man. As hard as it is to remove a video from the Internet, that’s how hard it is to remove that kind of fear from your mind. And that’s why I’m tired of the endless debate about whether Andrews somehow “asked for it.”

Although it may seem strange that people would suggest Andrews and other stalking victims “asked for it,” this is just another example of how women are frequently blamed for initiating rape, harassment, and abuse because of the way they look, the clothes they wear, or the way they behave. These attitudes persist despite the fact that about 1 in 12 women will be stalked (PDF) in their lifetime through no fault of their own. In Andrews’s case, people have mentioned that perhaps she shouldn’t have worn “short skirts”; even sports columnist Christine Brennan wrote in her column that “there are hundreds of women covering sports in this country who haven’t had this happen to them. I wish it didn’t happen to Erin, but I also would suggest to her if she asked (and she hasn’t) that she rely on her talent and brains and not succumb to the lowest common denominator in sports media by playing to the frat house,” suggesting that this happened to Andrews because she didn’t rely on her “talent and brains.” Comments like these make it all too clear how essential perspectives like Tracee Hamilton’s are.

We’re so thankful to Hamilton for having the courage to share her terrifying experience, and especially to remind us that the victim-blaming needs to stop: when it comes to stalking, no one “asks for it” and no one deserves it.

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