Ben Roethlisberger's Birthday: The Elements of a Bystander Approach

Dear Engaged Bystander: Alison Hall, the interim director of Pittsburg Actions Against Rape wrote a great letter to the editor about Ben Roethlisberger's birthday celebration. If you are not familiar with the case, Ben Roethlisberger, is the quarterback for the Pittesburg Steelers. He has been accused of raping a college student during his birthday bar crawl.

In Alison's letter, she builds an eloquent argument for focusing on what can be/should have been done. She begins by talking about the need to hold Mr. Roethlisberger accountable for his actions. That is something that I will address in a moment. I applaud Alison's use of her expertise as the director of an agency treating victims of sexual violence to point out the many places where people could have done something:

  • the bar manager and the waiters: did not stop the drinks when they could see how drunk the young women was with shots of tequila.
  • the body guards did not let the girl's friends find her when they knew she should not be alone.
  • two of Ben's friends were off-duty police officers and should know that the 20 year old could not give consent when she was that intoxicated.

Some people might look at this letter and wonder if this is an extension of victim blaming. I can understand how you could feel that way if Alison did not first point out the full accountability of Mr. Ben Roethlisberger. I would like to develop that line of thinking further and point out the many placed where people could have done something:

  • the NFL could develop stricter standards and stricter enforcement of those standards for all of their players.
  • given the number of cases that have been raised, the president of the NFL players association could make a public statement that this kind of alleged behavior (whether proven or not) does not represent the NFL.
  • Ben's friends could have and should stepped in and stopped Ben from being in an isolated place with a young college student when she had been drinking too much.

ALL of these actions were and some still are possible. And thank you to Alison for beginning that conversation. Hopefully some of these changes will be possible before another young woman is hurt by a nationally recognized athlete.

The full letter is below or just click here:

Failure to intervene

As the director of an agency focused on the treatment and prevention of sexual violence in Allegheny County, I would like to bring to light another troubling aspect of Ben Roethlisberger's birthday celebration in Milledgeville, Ga. Believe me, I am not letting Mr. Roethlisberger off the hook with regard to his responsibility. His behavior certainly speaks for itself and has been addressed by the Steelers and the NFL.

However, every person in close contact with Mr. Roethlisberger and the alleged victim failed to do the right thing that night -- Mr. Roethlisberger's friends, alleged victim's friends, bar employees. There is no doubt the alleged victim increased her vulnerability by consuming large amounts of alcohol. Yes, there are numerous accounts of what actually occurred that night; however, what has been consistently stated by all is the alleged victim was highly intoxicated. If someone had intervened for that reason alone, the evening may have turned out differently.

The alleged victim's friends, who claim they tried to intervene only to be stopped by Mr. Roethlisberger's bodyguards, did not take their concerns to the bar manager. The bar manager, bartender and waitress completely ignored they had an already intoxicated patron, in a VIP area where shots of tequila continued to flow freely. Mr. Roethlisberger's entourage included two off-duty police officers who, given the nature of their jobs, should have known someone so intoxicated most likely couldn't give consent for anything that evening.

It is our hope at PAAR that individuals will recognize potentially dangerous situations and will intervene. If any of the above individuals had stepped in that night, we may have had an entirely different ending to this birthday celebration.

Interim Executive Director
Pittsburgh Action Against Rape
South Side