Out from behind the blue dot
April 23, 2004
It began with an evening stroll.
For both Kobe Bryant’s alleged victim, and the woman who accused William Kennedy Smith of raping her, the incidents began with an evening stroll: Bryant’s alleged victim through a hotel last summer, Smith’s accuser along a beach 13 years ago.
Both women say the nights ended the same.
In one of television’s early attempts at broadcasting criminal trial, Patricia Bowman’s face was obscured by a blue dot. Smith, a member of the Kennedy empire, was found not guilty. Last week Bowman stepped out from behind the blue dot and into the spotlight.
“It brought up a lot of things I knew would come up, but I’m ready for it to go away for a while,” said Bowman.
Bowman is one of the few people in the world who knows exactly what Bryant’s alleged victim is going through. She understands the death threats, the barrage of hateful phone calls, the tabloid stalkers – what it’s like to literally and figuratively have your dirty laundry aired in public and your life lashed to the wheels of justice. The wheels turn slowly and even when they stop, the ordeal doesn’t.
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On her way to the airport and a flight to New York City for an appearance on NBC’s Today show, Bowman began to wonder if she could go through with the interview. Or even if she should.
In the airport on the way to the gate, her cell phone rang. A woman in another high profile rape case was calling for the first time in two years. Her case goes to trial this week. She was looking for encouragement and wisdom – and while they were at it could Bowman spare a little strength? She could.
Bowman says it’s time to speak out and share some of her strength with other young women. But would she come forward again and accuse a high-profile figure of rape?
“It was one of the first moves I made, and I’d do it again,” said Bowman.
Decision to speak
Bowman spoke out last week in Denver during a rally for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. A couple days later, she appeared on NBC’s Today show.
The decision to speak publicly was difficult, after staying out of the spotlight for more than a decade. Bowman has a 15-year-old daughter, and family is her first priority.
“She had to understand what happened,” said Bowman of her daughter. “Over the years I’ve used age-appropriate language to explain it to her in bits and pieces.”
She says faith and family got her through the early stages and still keep her going all these years later. She calls her daughter a strong, stable, wounderful young woman and says she’s proud to be her mother. She and her daughter are dealing with it together.
“In any crime there’s a direct victim,” said Bowman. “My family and her family are secondary victims, and they suffer right along with us.”
Of Kennedys and Lakers
For a time last summer, personal details about Bryant’s alleged victim were the most sought-after information on the Internet. Even though Bowman’s face was obscured by that now-famous blue dot, her name became fairly common knowledge among those following the trial from the safe distance of their living rooms.
The Kennedy dynasty and the Lakers dynasty stir similar, dark passions among their faithful who lash out when they think someone is threatening those to whom they have pledged allegiance.
Bryant’s alleged victim has been vilified. Friends who with her during the days and weeks after the story broke last summer recall opening her e-mail folder and reading the bile people would spew – and finding themselves frustrated because the hate mail came in faster than it could be read and deleted.
“High-profile cases always seem to stir extreme emotions, even in people not directly involved in the case,” said Bowman. “The worst possible time to go through this sort of public scrutiny is right after the event. You’re at a crossroads and you need to concentrate on getting your life back together.
“She needs to concentrate on her recovery,” Bowman added.
The fanatics’ fury eventually subsides, Bowman says. But what remains are the scars – both emotional and physical. Now, more than a dozen years later, people still approach to Bowman to tell their stories of being sexually assaulted. There is never a happy ending.
There are days she doesn’t think about it, when it doesn’t work its way to the surface. Most days it does. And the media asks her about it every year around the anniversary, ironically Good Friday.
Most of high profile rape bring reporters to Bowman asking for comparisons, asking how she thinks the latest victim feels or if Bowman has any advice.
“It makes it difficult to put it out of your life, but it’s been 13 years,” Bowman said. “I’ve moved on. I had to step back a little and allow myself the ability to recover.”
She wonders how many others are in the same situation. People call her, people recognize her. Most wish her well. She says the same is likely true for Bryant’s alleged victim.
“We need to recognize how many people care about her. In her case and other cases, you’re not alone,” Bowman said. “People support you in your community and across America. There are supporters everywhere.”
In the Bryant case, the court system has made it possible for some of Bryant’s alleged victim’s personal information to be splashed into the headlines through court filings and statements Bryant’s attorneys have made in open court. It should not happen, said Bowman.
“Everyone deserves the protections the law affords without being victimized again,” said Bowman, who added that blame-shifting from the alleged rapist to the alleged victim is a time-tested defense strategy. “These kinds of smear tactics have been used for years.
“If the defense team bullies a victim,” she added, “the media feels the need to report it.”
She cites studies that say only one in 16 rapists are convicted and imprisoned.
“That means there are still 15 out there,” she said. “Instead of blaming victims, we need to concentrate on getting these people off the street.”