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What Caused Erin Andrews’ Cervical Cancer?

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First Published in the Huffington Post

 

Erin Andrews was a reporter for ESPN in 2008 working to build a career in a male-dominated profession. She received unwanted and embarrassing attention when a stalker followed her to hotels and took naked pictures of her through a peephole. The pictures were released in 2009. Ms. Andrews, now a sportscaster for Fox Sports was in the news again recently when it was revealed she had cervical cancer.

We cannot know definitively what caused her cancer. There are many factors that can cause or contribute to cervical cancer. The list would include genetic and environmental issues, smoking, human papilloma virus (HPV), being overweight, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, sexual activity and use of specific contraceptives. Another factor is a compromised immune system such as for victims of HIV. Based on research about the impact of trauma on health, the criminal actions of Michael David Barrett who was convicted of stalking her could have undermined her immune system and led to the cervical cancer.

The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research from the CDC demonstrates that the greatest harm from domestic violence and other trauma is not the immediate physical injury, but living with the fear that causes the worst kind of stress. The same would be true for women who are survivors of domestic violence, rape and other gendered crimes. Erin Andrews suffered enormous fear and stress as a result of Barrett’s crime which means his crime may have caused the cervical cancer.

Ms. Andrews gave a victim impact statement when Mr. Barrett was sentenced. He received a 30 month jail sentence. Erin Andrews stated that she thought he deserved a longer term, but the judge said that was the longest term the law allows. The legislators who passed the current laws, the police who enforce them and the prosecutors who seek the penalties never considered the risk of cervical cancer and many other health problems when they put together the present responses. I believe the research that demonstrates the full level of harm from these crimes requires that society take them far more seriously.

Responding to Crimes that Cause Cancer and other Dreaded Diseases

Erin Andrews was a reporter for ESPN in 2008 working to build a career in a male-dominated profession. She received unwanted and embarrassing attention when a stalker followed her to hotels and took naked pictures of her through a peephole. The pictures were released in 2009. Ms. Andrews, now a sportscaster for Fox Sports was in the news again recently when it was revealed she had cervical cancer.

We cannot know definitively what caused her cancer. There are many factors that can cause or contribute to cervical cancer. The list would include genetic and environmental issues, smoking, human papilloma virus (HPV), being overweight, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, sexual activity and use of specific contraceptives. Another factor is a compromised immune system such as for victims of HIV. Based on research about the impact of trauma on health, the criminal actions of Michael David Barrett who was convicted of stalking her could have undermined her immune system and led to the cervical cancer.

The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Research from the CDC demonstrates that the greatest harm from domestic violence and other trauma is not the immediate physical injury, but living with the fear that causes the worst kind of stress. The same would be true for women who are survivors of domestic violence, rape and other gendered crimes. Erin Andrews suffered enormous fear and stress as a result of Barrett’s crime which means his crime may have caused the cervical cancer.

Ms. Andrews gave a victim impact statement when Mr. Barrett was sentenced. He received a 30 month jail sentence. Erin Andrews stated that she thought he deserved a longer term, but the judge said that was the longest term the law allows. The legislators who passed the current laws, the police who enforce them and the prosecutors who seek the penalties never considered the risk of cervical cancer and many other health problems when they put together the present responses. I believe the research that demonstrates the full level of harm from these crimes requires that society take them far more seriously.

Responding to Crimes that Cause Cancer and other Dreaded Diseases

Domestic violence, rape and other sexual assaults are already the most underreported crimes. This illustrates the problem of having male dominated professions have the most influence in making decisions that mostly impact women. The significance of the crimes is routinely minimized and the widespread gender bias of disbelieving women makes it harder to win convictions. In the Stanford rape case the court seemed more concerned with the impact on the rapist than on his victim. Trauma-informed medical research increases the need to reconsider how we respond to these gendered crimes.

I can just imagine the response from supporters of the status quo and defenders of abusers. The connection between the stalking and Ms. Andrews’ cervical cancer is speculative. We cannot base decisions on the possibility that something bad will happen. Except we do it all the time. What would happen if a parent left a young child alone in a car particularly in very hot or cold weather? Let’s assume the child is not injured or sickened. Authorities would still treat the crime seriously because we know the child could have died. The same principle should apply to crimes that cause the fear and stress known to cause a variety of health problems.

These crimes are not inevitable and certainly not at the present levels. Someone who commits a rape has about a one percent chance of going to jail. Domestic violence offenders are even safer. This lack of priority and seriousness in enforcing gendered crimes contributes greatly to their frequency. When communities like Quincy, Nashville and San Diego put in place effective practices to prevent domestic violence, these crimes and especially the homicides were dramatically reduced. In other words, taking these crimes more seriously and making potential offenders aware they are more likely to face meaningful consequences will cause them to stop.

These painful, embarrassing and traumatic crimes are life-changing for the victims and should also be for the offenders. Erin Andrews was right that her stalker deserved a far longer sentence. The criminal penalties for these crimes should be increased because the harm is so much worse than male legislators understood. Police must make these crimes a far higher priority and stop practices that discourage victims from making reports. Prosecutors have to stop relying on ineffective responses like therapy, anger management, diversion and leniency as we have seen in many of the cases involving athletes and the general public.

Conclusion

Barrett targeted Erin Andrews because she is pretty, because she is a celebrity and because she is a woman. Erin paid an unspeakable price for her success because she is a woman. It may be hard for men, particularly in positions of power to fully understand the pain, embarrassment and terror Barrett put her through. And just when it appeared she was finished with the case Erin learned she had cervical cancer. She will never know if the trauma she experienced contributed to her cancer.

One of the most fundamental purposes of society and government is to keep people safe. We know how to prevent crimes that change women’s lives. On a human level and a moral level it is outrageous that we have tolerated these heinous crimes for so long. Most policy makers are unaware that this tolerance impacts everyone.

Erin Andrews is fortunate in that she has health insurance. The insurance company no doubt paid for any therapy she received in response to the trauma and for the cancer treatment. To gain a better sense of the damage, multiply this expense by millions of women and children impacted by these crimes. The United States spends $750 billion every year on health care expenses caused by domestic violence. Far more when we consider the other gendered crimes discussed in this article. Victims often fail to reach their economic potential as a result of these preventable crimes. This is a huge drag on our economy. When we consider the costs to the criminal justice system, education and so many other impacts from these crimes, the United States is wasting trillions of dollars so the Barretts in our midst can feel safe committing their crimes.

When I consider the unspeakable pain and trauma that Erin Andrews has been through it feels like there is something off about discussing the enormous economic harm caused by such crimes. I would like to think that our leaders would implement the needed changes because it is the right and moral course to follow. But this compelling argument has not worked until now. If appealing to the economic interests of leaders who fail to understand the nature of these crimes is the only way to win needed reforms then so be it. We must send a message to these misogynist offenders that their crimes will be investigated with the highest priority and prosecuted to achieve maximum accountability. You see these crimes make our society sick.

 

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Barry Goldstein

Barry Goldstein

Research Director

Barry Goldstein is a nationally recognized domestic violence author, speaker and advocate.
 
Barry has written some of the leading books about domestic violence and custody.
 
Barry has an ACE score of 0.

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