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Irresponsible Responses

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A request to reconsider the commentary

Udinese v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Cristiano Ronaldo is no longer a part of Real Madrid, however, the recent resurfacing of past accusations has still had an impact on this fanbase. The week that those accusations came forward again was a tough one for me. I was faced with a Twitter feed full of stories of the now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser’s testimony and stories of other women who have experienced similar things. It was enough that I had to put Twitter down for the day. I was too triggered. You see, I too, am a survivor. I have put many hours and years into myself, with the help of a professional, to transition from a victim to a survivor.

All of these stories brought back the pain of what I went through as I read them. So I stepped away for the day. When I came back, I focused more on my football Twitter for a time — moreso than the political tweets. Three days after the Kavanaugh hearing, Ronaldo’s 2009 accusations invaded my feed. I felt like I had no escape. The strange thing about healing is that sometimes the process isn’t as done as you want to think it is. (I think it is fair to note that while I will abstain from officially passing judgment, I am predisposed to believing the victim. We will wait to see what the courts have to say.)

As I read through the tweets, the responses are what hurt and angered me most.

“She’s too ugly to be raped.”

“Ronaldo doesn’t need to rape anyone.”

“She’s just out for fame and money.”

“Why did she wait so long to come forward?”

Look, I understand that some felt that their hero was being attacked. When part of who you are comes from who you identify with, it’s hard to not take this personally. These accusations, in no way, speak to Ronaldo’s capabilities on the pitch. They don’t detract from the awe I felt watching THAT goal against Juventus in last year’s UCL run. They don’t take away from the awards he has earned, the work he has put in to be where he is, or the charitable contributions he has made. (Though maybe those donations and memories may feel a bit tarnished now.) However, we have to talk about these responses.

The first two can be responded to in conjunction. Truthfully, no one is immune. The CDC estimates that one in three women, and one in six men, will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives. Take a second to pause reading this, and look around you. Are there more than three women in the room with you? More than six men on the train with you? Odds are, they’ve experienced something. Sexual violence is not about what the victim looks like, who they are, or what they’re wearing. It doesn’t matter if the accused is famous, wealthy, ugly, poor, male, or female. There’s no simple answer to why someone commits an act of sexual violence. The most common theory is that it has more to do with power and control and very little to do with sexual gratification.

“She’s just out for fame and money.”

This is statistically improbable.

According to a study from 2010 by David Lisak, roughly 2-10% of all rape cases were false reports. (Eight cases of a sample size of 136 over the course of 10 years were proven to be false allegations. The study also shows a series of similar studies with differing statistics, but all fall within this 2-10% range.) The real question I have for those using this argument: Why? Why would she willingly subject herself to the ridicule that comes with making a claim like this against someone like Ronaldo, especially if it’s false? Honestly, what does she stand to gain? To me, the amount of money in the initial settlement and the amount mentioned now don’t seem like enough to make false claims. Forget the money. The amount of emotional turmoil that subjecting herself to public ridicule would bring isn’t worth it. People showed up at the house of the referee who awarded the free-kick against Juventus last year and sent death threats to him and his wife. They published his wife’s cell phone number. All because they didn’t agree with a call he made in a game. What’s to stop them from behaving this way or worse with Ronaldo’s accuser? Would anyone intentionally put themselves at risk like that?

“Why did she wait so long to come forward?” These are the people that I want to shake and tell them they just don’t get it. First, according to the claims made by Der Spiegel, she didn’t. A rape kit was processed, she called the police and filed a claim, all within hours of the alleged event. The settlement was signed and delivered within a few months. She didn’t wait as long as the non-disclosure agreement made it seem. Secondly, reporting is difficult. An event like rape has physical, emotional, and mental life-long repercussions that take time to negotiate. Even without those, we live in a climate now that reminds us that everyone is innocent until they are proven guilty, to the point that the knee jerk reaction is that the victim HAS to be lying. (I really don’t want to advocate for assuming guilt first, but I do want to advocate for rethinking our initial responses to alleged victims.) You don’t think you’ll be believed. You go through second-guessing what you could have done differently, said differently, worn differently. The what-ifs surrounding the situation are silencers. Which brings me to my third point: Silence seems easier. We think that if we don’t talk about it, it’ll just go away. What we learn instead is that it sits in the back of our minds and festers, until we have to clean it out like we’re debriding a wound. It’s messy and it hurts. Nine years sounds like a long time, but think of those who never come forward. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that there is an average of 321,500 sexual assault and rape cases every year in the United States. According to the FBI, a total of 135,755 cases were reported in 2017.

Sexual assault is a difficult topic and how we handle it is an essential discussion. Especially when it rears its ugly head in something as unifying as football. Please be conscious of how you respond to all of this. Understand that there are a lot of us that look at responses and feel defeated. We may have the #MeToo movement, but I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever be truly believed.