Monday, October 5, 2009

Andrews' Alleged Stalker Arrested

Erin Andrews’ case raises questions well beyond what she has suffered, and the quality of the country’s privacy laws, striking at the very heart of women’s vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation.

Given the sophistication of today’s peeping devices coupled with criminal and/or sexual intent, both of which are underscored by this case, just how safe does any woman now feel who travels and stays in hotel rooms?

Nude videos were taken of Andrews’ in her private hotel room without her knowledge, and posted on the Internet, where they were viewed by millions and even downloaded.

Since 2004, Andrews, 31, has covered hockey, college football, college basketball and Major League Baseball for ESPN, which consistently emphasized her beauty during broadcasts. She was even named "sexiest sportscaster" by Playboy magazine in 2008 and 2009.

Women are frequently forced to be “packaged” as a sexual commodity if they work in any broadcast post in front of the camera. If they don't go along with this packaging, they are less likely to be promoted, or even given any significant air time.

This unspoken sexual credo is especially true in the sports field, where the majority of viewers are male. It is very rare that any male sportscaster is ever depicted primarily for his sexuality, or have his appearance openly discussed on camera.

Just how much that attitude, or subtle victimization,  contributed to Andrews' ultimate and broader victimization is unknown.

Insurance executive, Michael David Barrett, 47, of Westmont, Ill., was arrested Friday night and held in jail over the weekend. On Monday, he was given a conditional release pending the outcome of the charges. The judge ordered that he wear an ankle bracelet to allow authorities to constantly monitor his whereabouts, and also ordered him to have no contact with Andrews, and to not use the Internet. If he violates the terms of his release, bail would be revoked and he would be returned to federal custody and sent to jail where he would remain until the charges are adjudicated. Barrett, who is a divorced father, did not speak during proceedings.

Authorities said they did not know when Barrett became obsessed with Andrews, or had begun to follow her movements without her knowledge.

Barrett now faces charges of interstate stalking, accused of taking those nude videos of Andrews in her hotel rooms, while she was covering sporting events. He is also accused of trying to sell those videos to the celebrity Web site TMZ, and was also charged with posting the videos he had made online.

Andrews’ attorney immediately had the videos removed from the Internet, but it was far too late, as the images had already gone viral on the web. Unfortunately, those videos can still be found and viewed.

The charges again Barrett carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and a $250,000 fine, if convicted. The federal charges were filed in Los Angeles, where TMZ is based.

An FBI affidavit said agents had reviewed eight videos and all but one had appeared to be taken in a single hotel. The affidavit said Andrews had reviewed several and said they appeared to be of her in a room at the Marriott Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

In an interview with ABC's Good Morning America, Andrews said that she had assisted authorities in the case after recognizing a pair of blue jeans that she had worn during her Nashville stay.

Authorities said Barrett had occupied an adjacent room, and that the peephole in the door of Andrews' room appeared to have been modified with a hacksaw to permit videos to be made with a cell phone camera.

The affidavit said that in making his reservation in Nashville, Barrett specifically requested a room next to Andrews. She had stayed at the Marriott there on Sept. 4 for a work assignment. She had been given room 1051, and Barrett was given room 1049, according to the FBI complaint. The rooms were also secluded, together in an alcove, according to the complaint.

The FBI complaint also says that Barrett called 14 hotels in Milwaukee in July 2008 to find out which one Andrews was staying in while she covered a Major League Baseball game.

Although hotels aren't supposed to give out any information about guests, Barrett somehow found out that Andrews would be staying at the Radisson, where he also booked a room. Barrett didn't check into the Radisson, but FBI agents found a similarly tampered peephole where Andrews had stayed.

Investigators believe seven videos were recorded in Nashville, while an eighth video may have been shot at a hotel in Milwaukee, even though Barrett had never checked in, and the interior of that room did not fully match what was seen on the eighth video.

Over the weekend, Andrews thanked FBI agents and federal prosecutors for their work and said she hoped the case will eventually help others.

"For my part, I will make every effort to strengthen the laws on a state and federal level to better protect victims of criminal stalking," she said in a statement.

Andrews didn’t specifically address privacy laws, but legal experts have noted that penalties for violating them are minor in comparison to the humiliation and sexual exploitation suffered by victims. Stalking allegations carry only somewhat more severe penalties.

On Sunday, Andrews' lawyer, Marshall Grossman, questioned hotel security because of the way that Barrett had gained access to where his client had been staying. The case, "has significance far beyond Ms. Andrews," Grossman told the L.A. Times.

Grossman went on to say that the Marriott not only granted Barrett's request to have the room next to Andrews’ at the hotel, but also assigned them "rooms at the end of the hall, in an alcove, where anyone would be free to do just about whatever they wanted to do in complete privacy."

Those decisions, will "likely serve as a casebook study on poor hotel management," according to Grossman.

Joseph McInerney, CEO of the hotel industry's American Hotel and Lodging Association, told the LA Times that privacy is an issue "not just for celebrities."

Most hotels do not allow booking people in adjacent rooms merely because one of the guests requests it, he told the LA Times.

"They don't know what your motives are," McInerney told the L.A. Times, adding many hotels will not even confirm or deny a guest's presence.

Barrett, clad in the bright orange jumpsuit of a federal prisoner, made a brief initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys after his Friday night arrest by FBI agents at O'Hare International Airport.

A spokeswoman for the Combined Insurance Company of America confirmed that Barrett was an employee who worked in sales management.

No comments:

Post a Comment