Heroes Don’t Abuse Women
Kobe Bryant was a gifted athlete, champion basketball player and beloved by millions of fans. Kobe Bryant was probably also a rapist. When I heard about his death, I wondered how the stories would treat his alleged sexual assault. The first article I saw waited until late in the material for a two-line paragraph concerning his indictment for raping a woman and the dismissal of charges after the alleged victim decided not to testify after numerous death threats. This was pretty typical of the way the media minimized this horrific crime.
The alleged victim was a hotel employee that Kobe met for the first time the night of the alleged rape. There was no dispute that they had intercourse. The issue was whether it was consensual. Rapes are often not prosecuted because of the difficulty in proving a crime that is typically committed in private. Prosecutors care about their batting averages, so do not bring charges in sexual assault cases without strong evidence. The hesitation is even more pronounced when the defendant is rich and famous.
A caller to a radio sports talk show said it was unfair to mention the incident because the charges had been dropped. This is likely a widespread belief that makes a common mistake of misunderstanding “innocent until proven guilty.”
The phrase only applies to the criminal justice system and is based on the value we place on human freedom. No one should be convicted of a crime and lose their liberty except upon the highest standard of proof. I would not want my daughter spending time with a credibly accused rapist who was able to avoid conviction. The highest standard should only apply to criminal convictions.
Kobe was a wealthy man who could afford the best lawyers and public relations agents. They did not hesitate to attack the victim in the court and in the court of public opinion. It was no accident that she was attacked in the media, lied about, and threatened. The outcome of the case was based more on the unfair attacks and fear aimed at the victim than the actual evidence. The case was dropped because she was afraid to testify. The parties later settled a civil suit that reportedly paid her $2.5 million. The amount of the settlement probably says something about the strength of the evidence.
Widespread Failure to Prevent Rape
Society’s response to sexual assault is nothing short of a failure. One thousand sexual assaults on women in this country result in the imprisonment of fewer than five men. Women are given less credibility and value than men. Preventing sexual assault, which mostly victimizes women and children, is given a very low priority. The likelihood that men will get away with rape makes it more likely that women will be assaulted.
The most significant deterrent to sexual assaults would be meaningful consequences. The poor criminal justice practices discourage reports of this life-altering crime. Victims are often retraumatized by the responses that tend to blame the victim and advantage the rapist at every turn.
Kobe Bryant’s rape case drew enormous public attention because of his celebrity, and many learned about rape from the response to this crime. Kobe was allowed to use his vast wealth to attack the victim as part of the criminal process and through the use of his platform as a celebrity and by hiring public relations experts. Death threats against the victim and other negative consequences were utterly predictable, if not the purpose of their strategy.
As a result of these despicable and unregulated tactics, the victim decided it was too dangerous to testify at his trial. This resulted in the dismissal of the charges, but not based on the merits of the evidence. Accordingly, Kobe faced no criminal consequences for his actions.
Kobe settled the civil suit and certainly spent millions of dollars for the settlement and for legal and other fees. This is a substantial sum of money for most people, but given Kobe’s wealth, the expense had no effect on his life. He lost some of his sponsors, but over time he was able to regain his extensive sponsorship.
The last potential accountability would be his reputation. Barry Bonds and other baseball steroid users have taken a severe hit to their reputation for cheating the sport. Kobe was quickly able to resume his previous life. He continued to have success as a basketball player and was treated as if he was a hero. Now, in response to his untimely death, the obituaries barely mention and minimize the credible report that he raped a vulnerable woman.
Most humans are neither all good or all bad. People, including professionals who do not understand sexual assault and domestic violence, often assume that someone successful in other parts of their lives; and responsible for good deeds could not have committed the gendered crimes of which they are accused. I do not doubt that Kobe Bryant engaged in many good deeds and accomplished things he had every right to be proud of. If he committed the rape he was charged with, as appears very likely, that act was far more consequential than anything else during his life.
I was disappointed that most of the news articles did not do justice to Kobe’s rape or to his victim. My motive is not vengeance, but the message that is sent. Our country is weaker and less humane because we tolerate far too much sexual assault. Kobe’s rape case was a teachable moment, but the terrible message was that men could expect to get away with sexual assault. This is a message we must change.
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Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.