The Haunting of Erin Andrews

From Marie Claire:

Two years after that infamous video, the ESPN reporter still can’t escape it — even though she put her stalker behind bars. As she gears up for college football season, she opens up about the public and private battles she’s still waging.

“Just saw your video. Wow, you are on fire doing your hair naked!”

That’s an incoming tweet to Erin Andrews. It hits her iPhone while she’s on a trip to Tennessee, preparing to host a country-music benefit for tornado victims. She gets about a dozen such tweets a day — continual reminders of the video that went viral two years ago this summer, when a stalker removed the peephole of her hotel-room door, then stood in the hallway and filmed her for several minutes in the nude. Not that she’s likely to forget. The video is one of the first things that pops up in a Google search of her name. At college football games, where she reports from the sidelines for ESPN, she hears fans scream from the stadium, “Hey, I’ve seen you naked!”

The video has become part of her everyday life, but that doesn’t mean she plans to accept that fate. She has put her stalker in jail, she has lobbied for stronger laws against stalkers, and she has filed a civil suit against the hotel where the video was shot, hoping to spur all hotels to boost their security. Now Andrews is launching a new offensive — to vanquish the video from the Internet. To do so, she must first buy the copyright to the illicit video of her own body. We asked about her ongoing struggles, both legal and personal.

It must be galling to see the video every time you Google your name.
Yes, it’s actually the second thing you see. I think it’s pretty ironic because Google is promoting a campaign to fight bullying that literally makes you want to cry — it’s called “It Gets Better.” They show people going on Facebook and getting help; they show people going on YouTube and sharing their stories. They say, “Hang in there.” Yet at the same time, Google is helping people get to my video. I consider that cyberbullying. I really think that’s what these kids are thinking about when they consider taking their own lives, like that poor soul at Rutgers — they’re worried about naked photos being passed around the Internet. I remember the day I read about that kid from Rutgers. I was on the road for college football; I sat in my hotel room and just bawled my face off.

How will it help you to own the copyright to your video?
I’ve had lawyers send out cease-and-desist letters to websites to take down the video, which they never do. The copyright helps us say, “We have this — get the video off, or we will sue.”

How did you first hear about the video of you online?
I was in L.A., in July 2009. It was the day after the ESPY Awards, and I was meeting with the producers from Dancing With the Stars; they wanted to have me do the show. It had been a great day, and I was about to take a red-eye back home to Atlanta that night, when a friend who works as a blogger in the sports industry called. He said, “There’s this video on the Internet, and they’re saying it’s you, and you’re naked in a hotel room.” I just laughed and said, “Well, that’s not me. I don’t do stuff like that.” He said, “You need to look at it.”

I could feel my heart just literally coming out of my chest. As I was opening my laptop, I felt like I was going to vomit and faint at the same time. I typed in the website address, and all of a sudden, it popped up on my screen. You know your body — you know what it looks like without clothes on — and I just said, “Oh, my God.” My first call was to my parents. I was screaming and so upset that they thought I was physically injured in a car accident. They’re like, “Where are you? What’s wrong?” I said, “My career is over. I’m done.”

How did you cope psychologically with the knowledge that strangers would be seeing you in the nude?
That was the hardest thing. Despite what I do for a living, I am very insecure about my body. I don’t have a complex, but for every woman — I don’t care who you are — there’s a part of your body you have issues with. It was my body, and I didn’t have a choice of how many people got to see it. What people don’t understand is that while I wasn’t physically touched, I was violated.

The day that I got the phone call that this was on the Internet, I didn’t want to get undressed. I didn’t change my clothes for two or three days. I was so screwed up. I was disgusted with myself; I was disgusted with my body, with being naked, and that everybody saw that it was me. I stopped going to my gym for six or seven months because I was afraid of people seeing me working out. I had this mind-set of, “Oh, my gosh, everybody’s seen me naked and they’re going to think to themselves, She should be so embarrassed.”

The first site to run the video was in Europe. Then a sports blog linked to it — and rumors spread that you might have been behind the whole thing.
Yes, the perception right away was: She’s doing this as a sex tape. She’s doing this for publicity. News sites claimed they showed the video because it was “news.” These news outlets were having so much fun with it. The New York Post put the images from the video up on the front page.The Early Show played clips on their show. Fox News showed stills. It was disgusting. My poor dad was watching this. He had to go on medication, he was so upset watching what was happening to his daughter.

You’d worked hard to prove yourself in the guy zone of sports reporting. How did men in your industry react?
When this happened, there was a lot of talk about whether I was going to come back, and I had a phone full of messages from some of the best coaches in the country, saying, “Please come back. Don’t let this idiot win. You are what’s right about our game.” So for all those people who say I’m just a pretty face on the sidelines and I don’t deserve to be there, I thought, This is validation.

So you kept working through it all?
The video went up in July, and I went back to work in August. Being a woman in a male-dominated industry, you are so afraid of people thinking you are weak. It’s creepy that you’re a crime victim and you don’t want people to think you’re weak. But anyway, I went back to work, in what I call my glazed-over period. I was so out of it. For the first few months, I didn’t know if someone on my crew had done this to me; I didn’t know if this person was still following me. I kept thinking he would jump out of the closet in the hotel. Honestly, I shouldn’t have gone back so soon. I should have taken care of myself.

In October 2009, about three months after the video went online, police arrested your stalker …
Yes, I had an incredible group of FBI agents helping me. But it was hard because during the investigation, the FBI couldn’t say a word about the case. So the media kept saying, “She had to have been behind it because no one’s saying that there’s an FBI investigation.” Even when I first met with the FBI, they looked me in the eye and said, “We cannot spend time on this unless you tell us that you did not do this to yourself.” Then I had to sit there and watch the video with them — we were looking for some kind of clue to find out where I was. In the video, you could actually hear people walking past the guy filming me in the hallway.

In the end, Harvey Levin at TMZ is one of the biggest reasons we caught the stalker: The guy had contacted TMZ and said, “I have a naked video of Erin Andrews. Do you want it?” TMZ gave the e-mail to the FBI. The week of the arrest, I was on the road. I knew something was going on because the FBI had increased security around me. When they got the guy, I was so happy, but then I just started reliving it all, and had a giant meltdown before a game. I called my parents and just lost it. I was like, “I just can’t go on camera. I don’t even know who’s playing — I’m so out of it.” My parents kept saying, “Just get through this.”

Your stalker turned out to be an Illinois-based insurance salesman named Michael David Barrett. Do you know why he fixated on you?
I don’t remember ever meeting him before. I don’t know why he chose me, but he did. He had done this to other women, too. And he’s the father of a college-age daughter.

You found out that he had been following you for months, and had shot footage of you in hotel rooms in both Ohio and Tennessee. How did he know where you were staying?
He would call every hotel in the town where I was covering college football until he found me. Then he would get there a day before and remove the peephole — they’re pretty easy to take out. I didn’t notice. I mean, when I get into town, I’m in such a hurry — I throw my stuff down, we go to a football meeting, I work out, I go to dinner, then to bed. I’m using an alias now, but people can still call hotels and say, “Is ESPN there?” And hotels will say yes. Sometimes I’ll call them myself as a test. I have no tolerance when I see things they do that aren’t safe. What happened to me in the hotel is inexcusable: Information should not be given out as easily as it is.

You faced Barrett for the first time in court in December 2009, five months after the video went online. What was it like to see him face-to-face?
It was awful. He ended up walking in right in front of us, and I started to hyperventilate. I looked at my dad and was like, “I can’t breathe.” My dad was a rock. I had these notes, and he goes, “Look down and concentrate on your notes.” I looked down, and you could just hear teardrops hitting my paper. And it was funny, for a guy who stood behind a door and took this video of me and stalked me, he didn’t look at me once in court. He couldn’t look at me.

At the sentencing in March, the judge let me speak to him. I got so nervous and geeked up that my heel got caught in the carpet on the way to the podium, and I almost fell on my face. Then I started telling him what he’d done to my life. I yelled, “You’re going to go to jail for how many years, but I’ll never get this off the Internet — I’ll have to explain it to my future husband and my kids!”

That spring, you went on Dancing With the Stars, causing a new storm.
Yes, my whole reason for doing the show was to get away from my life. I did it to get my smile back. Then Elisabeth Hasselbeck said my stalker should have just waited and he could have seen me naked on Dancing With the Stars, referring to the costumes. That was basically throwing stalking in the face of every victim and laughing about it.

Your stalker is now in jail but gets out next fall. Does that worry you?
That’s something I think about a lot. I’ll need a restraining order. I’m not married; I’m not dating anyone. When I finally have a life and a family and someone who wants to be a part of all this, I’m going to have to explain, “So, my stalker’s getting out of jail …” It’s going to be a different life with him out of jail.

How can women protect themselves, and their privacy, in hotels?
If the clerk says your room number out loud and there are people standing there, ask for a different room. If you get a room with an adjoining room, prop a card against the door so you can tell if it’s been opened. Cover your peephole with a Band-Aid. Put up the “Do Not Disturb” sign — no one needs to be in your room. If you’re there for a few days and need towels, call the front desk.

The athletes you report on need to protect their privacy as well, or they could be embroiled in a scandal …
Oh, yeah, I’m seeing a lot of colleges educating their athletes, saying, “Look, you’ve got to be really careful about what pictures you put on Facebook or in social media because there may be people who try to take advantage of you.”

Last summer, you lobbied for a bill that would strengthen laws against stalkers, but the bill didn’t pass Congress. Now it has been reintroduced. Will you keep lobbying for it?
Yes. The laws are so outdated, and technology has just gotten better and crazier and faster. The laws need to be strengthened — they’re a joke. Hopefully, we can get something done. I’ve brought attention to the crime. Now let’s fix it.

Speaking out about your experience could arguably cause more problems for you. What motivates you?
When someone embarrasses me publicly the way this guy did, I feel I have no choice but to fight back. And at the time everything happened, I got a ton of letters from women who were stalking victims. People had set up video cameras in their homes, whether it was a neighbor or a handyman. The videos were on the Internet, and the women couldn’t get them down or get these guys arrested. They said, “First, we want to welcome you to the sorority. But we also want to tell you to please fight this — you’re our voice.” I had to.

 

 

Nancy’s Second Stalking Experience

Nancy has been the victim of multiple stalkers.  This is just one of her stories.

I met him when I was twenty-nine. He was the quintessential bad boy – tough,sexy, brooding, and a bit over-the-top emotionally. It was lust at first sight. We began to date and things were fine at first. In fact, I thought he was just perfect in every way. (except for that awful temper…) He would get jealous if other men so much as looked at me. I thought it was sweet. It meant he cared.

I had no idea who I was dealing with.

Read more of Nancy’s story here.

 

As a crime that statistically affects 3.4 million people in the United States it touches more lives than HIV & breast cancer combined. Help us #FightStalking!

Ben’s Stalking Experience

If you have heard many stalking cases they are likely have featured women as the victim; however, I am one of the few men to have been a victim of stalking.  I have followed many of the cases like Jodi Sanderholm, Kelsey Smith and Morgan Harrington.  It was the case of Morgan Harrington that brought me face-to-face with a woman who would soon begin stalking me.

I had met her online discussing various aspects of the case and when I decided to travel to Virginia for he one year anniversary of Morgan’s disappearance in October 2010 we met.  Face-to-face this seemed like a very different person than I had spent hours speaking with on Facebook and the phone.  She was much more clingy and jealous.  She took my saying hi to a waitress as flirting and would become enraged.

After the meeting in October she would begin calling me 2-3 times a day then by the end of November it had increased to 6-7 times a day.  She blamed the constant calls on panic attacks.  We lived in different states and I continued to stress that if we were going to have a relationship I wanted to go slow.  She didn’t seem to understand that and claimed I was ignoring her.

By Christmas the calls increased to a minimum of nine times per day.  The more I back off the relationship the more persistent she became.  In February, she wanted to come see me and I told her it was not a good idea.  She came anyway and by April 2011 she was pressuring me to move to Virginia to be with her.  When I told her I was not ready to do that she responded by yelling that I didn’t care about her.

I knew it had to end and tried to let her down easy.  However, she was obsessed.  In one day she called me a total of 37 times.  I was concerned for her as a person, but was not interested in a relationship.  She would call stating if I would not be with her she would kill herself or so something stupid.

It was mid-April 2011 before she finally left me alone.  I have not heard from her since.

My name is Ben and this is my stalking experience.

 

Nancy’s Stalking Experience (one of them)

Nancy has been a victim of multiple stalkers.  This is just one of her stories.

The driver of the car spotted me walking and slowed down. The passenger window rolled down for him to talk to me.

“Hey baby, wanna ride?” He was leering at me in my school clothes. I wore a uniform to school that was very loose and billowy. I was sweating. It was July, and I was only 23.

“No. I don’t want a ride.” I began to walk away, and he followed me. Insisting that I get in the car. Finally I yelled loud enough to scare him off.

Read her full story here.

As a crime that statistically affects 3.4 million people in the United States it touches more lives than HIV & breast cancer combined. Help us #FightStalking!

 

My Personal Stalking Experience, Part 4

As part of our #FightStalking campaign we are asking people to share how stalking has affected them personally.  This is part 4 of my experience.  You can catch up here with Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

The arrest warrant and serving of the order of protection took time…too much time.  The emails, notes, drives by my house and now phone calls continued.  She taunted me with claims that she would not be arrested.  According to her, she knew the “right people” who would take care of it and there was nothing I could do.

The calls were constant to my work phone.  I could barely get any work done throughout the day and my evenings were filled with police reports when I was not at the shooting range.  My entire life was about keeping myself and my family safe.  There was no time for fun or relaxation it was all about fielding the calls and filing more reports.

After the order of protection had not been served for two weeks I got suspicious.  Maybe she did know someone so a friend/private investigator pulled an arrest report on the stalker.  Multiple arrests.  You hear the term “rap sheet a mile long” well this was her! Everything from small charges to more serious charges with one thing in common.  She was arrested, but never convicted.  The realization began to set in that for whatever reason if my family stayed in New Mexico I would never feel safe and this might never end.

The stress was immense! One evening I couldn’t take it anymore and lashed out at my husband.  Every couple argues especially under these circumstances.  The difference in this argument was the turning point in how the stalker was getting the information.  John and I argued.  He consoled me and we went to bed.  The next day both of us slept in which was outside of our normal activities.  About 9:00 a.m. I got an anonymous email from the stalker that repeated our argument.  Both of us were in shock.  The stalker had never been in our home (to our knowledge).  Our minds raced with thoughts of bad spy movies.  Had something been put into the home while it was under construction?  Not really possible, but our phones were in the room during the argument.

My Blackberry had all the normal applications, but John’s had a new application. Some web searches indicated it was spyware. Spyware that could be activated remotely allowing the stalker to see text messages or emails, hear phone calls and even activate the speaker phone to hear the conversation in a room.  The realization that nothing in our lives was private anymore was infuriating to us both.  Love notes, bank statements, arguments, emails discussing what to do everything had potentially been seen by the stalker. Unsure we could ever fully remove the software we got new phones.  The financial burden of stalking victims is incredible while they are just trying to remain safe.

The temporary order of protection was finally served just a few days before the court hearing on the permanent order and we prepared for court.  I was scared.  My husband tried to console me, but for two years I had heard the worst endings to stalking stories.  I knew exactly how bad it could get.  With my daughter still safe in Kansas, my husband and I set off for court.  I prayed that she would simply not show up resulting in the order made permanent, but as we turned into the parking lot I knew I would be forced to be face-to-face with the person whose sole purpose seemed to be to make my life hell.  We parked and as I got out of the car my feet felt heavy as I walked into the court house.  You would think that the police presence, metal detectors and my husband’s support would have lessened the fear.  I don’t know if it were pure anger or the fact that just months before Jodi’s killer’s trial had concluded, but nothing could console me at that point.

The judge called us all into the courtroom and began by asking my husband and I if we still wanted the order in place.  She barely got the words out before we were saying yes.  Then she asked the stalker if “she minded” if the order remained in place and explained by saying too often she sits here for hours only to have both parties say they don’t care if it is in place or not.  The stalker took it. Hook, line and sinker!  After all, what would she say at that point?  That she could not have the order in place because she had made it her life’s mission to stalk me?

I was so relieved I wanted to jump up and hug the judge.  Since that would have been horribly inappropriate I remained seated while the judge explained the order of protection.  Both parties could violate.  The stalker was not allowed within 1000 feet of our home, workplaces or my daughter’s school.  My husband and I signed.  As the bailiff placed the order in front of the stalker she must have realized the magnitude of what she was signing and began protest to the judge.  The judge put a stop to it quickly, but to me it seemed like an eternity.  She signed.

We had to wait for the bailiff to make copies and file the order then we could leave.  Finally!  I was beginning to feel like my life might be mine again!  It got quiet for a couple days.  I relaxed a little, but it was short-lived.  Within days it all started again…the emails, the calls, the notes all of it and she was mad! The detective confirmed that the arrest warrant had been issued.  I had given them her work schedule.  Why had she not been arrested?

By mid-July we decided this would not end.  We needed to make a choice to take back our lives.  We decided to move to another state.  It was not an easy decision at all.  I had dreamed of living under the blue New Mexico skies since I was 10 years old.  The dream house we had built was less than a year old.  The economy was awful and we both had great and secure jobs, but we needed to live.  Nothing material mattered anymore.  All the “things” the stalker was so focused on did not mean a thing to us.  We just wanted to be safe and together.  So the decision was made we would move.  Leave behind our jobs. Our homes. Our friends.  But we would be together and safe.

The next few weeks were spent preparing for the move.  I had just unpacked these boxes into this home, but now I repacked them.  Many of our friends did not even know where we were going since we simply could not understand how the stalker was getting information.  About a week before we moved it got quiet.  Really quiet.  Too quiet.  We did give some thought to staying at that point, but within a few days it all came back and with yet more anger than before.  Unaware of what had happened we increased our security even to the point of registering for the moving truck under a different name and continued with our plans to move.

I could no longer go to the restroom by myself at work.  I had to be escorted everywhere after entering the restroom to a woman waiting.  She asked if I was Angela and I responded no and left.  Such a basic thing yet I couldn’t even do that alone.  We wanted to ensure our safety, but we were also just tired of dealing with it all.  For whatever reasons, the case was not being handled appropriately and it was time to relocate to a place that we were confident in the law enforcement.

The calls were non-stop.  It got to the point that I would leave the phone off the hook at work just to get some work done.  Frustrated I picked up the phone to call the police again.  Angry that an arrest warrant had been issued over a month ago I asked for a supervisor.  The supervisor informed me that during that “quiet time” the stalker had been arrested for aggravated stalking and a drive-by on a house (not mine).  I couldn’t believe that I had not been informed on her arrest or especially on her release, but I was not.  Her words of knowing the “right people” rang in my ears and I knew my family was doing the right thing by moving.  We left town two days later.  I have never been back and I am not sure I will ever feel safe enough to go back, but we did get our lives back and we are happy in our new permanent location.