Reporting rape takes great courage
Since the first headlines of the Bryant case streaked across the banners of major television news shows and newspapers, many people in the American public have held an unjustified, almost sadistic contempt for his alleged victim simply because she had the courage to come forward and tell her story to authorities.
As a result, she has been ridic-uled, had her life threatened and been exiled by her own classmates. The anthem of our nation seems to sing, “How dare you accuse our beloved champion!”
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 247,730 victims of rape or sexual assault last year. One out of six American women have been the victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime totaling over 17 million who have suffered at the hands of a sexual predator.
Yet despite the overwhelming amount of sexual assault victims in our society, many women fail to report what has happened to them.
According to the survey, only 39 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were actually reported to law enforcement officials last year. That means that millions of innocent victims who are abused and assaulted every year never receive justice.
Perhaps those who do not report such atrocities fear that they will be met with the same ferocity and disdain that Bryant’s alleged victim has been met with, even if only within their own local communities. After all, since the incident, numerous people, many of whom hardly know the alleged victim, have haunted her with insults and false accusations of her character in the supermarket tabloids and in mainstream media outlets.
When someone has been sexually assaulted, their individual rights have been violated in the most traumatic way imaginable. There are few words, if any, that can describe the kind of humiliation and indignity that one feels during the incident and afterward. Many victims are haunted by memories of having been violated for years to come.
Little by little, details of this young woman’s life have poured into the pages of the press, leaving her exposed and open for criticism by those she surrounds herself with. She’s not a perfect 19-year-old. Like most people, she’s made mistakes and had less than sound judgment calls – but that doesn’t make her any less eligible to become a victim.
It is for this reason that 49 states have rape shield laws that prohibit officers of the court from introducing evidence about a woman’s sexual past.
Unfortunately, even when a rape is reported to the police, there’s only a 50 percent chance that an arrest will be made. More than 30 percent of those who actually are convicted never spend any time in jail. Astonishingly, that means that when factoring in unreported rapes, only one out of 16 rapists ever spend a day in jail.
The decision to report any rape is an extremely difficult one. The threats, cruelty and humiliation that rape victims receive can be intimidating. After what the alleged victim in this case has experienced, it’s difficult to imagine that other potential rape victims haven’t been intimidated to report their own victimization considering the way she’s been treated.
To have the courage to report a man whose popularity is almost impenetrable takes a rare, special kind of bravery that is virtually unprecedented.
If Kobe Bryant’s alleged victim is telling the truth, she possessed that kind of confidence and resolution to see justice done.
Now, she is paying for it. She is paying for it by suffering from unfair prejudice, unwarranted accusations and the cruel intentions of those who care more about a game than justice.
Still, this young lady has not relented. Despite death threats and hostile demands from Lakers fans across the nation not to testify in court, she remains more determined than ever to see the legal process take its natural course.
Until Kobe Bryant is tried in a court of law, he must be presumed innocent by the American public. However, just as Bryant deserves a presumption of innocence, his alleged victim deserves a chance at justice without being assailed by intimidation.
Bryant’s alleged victim never deserved to be treated with the cruelty that was inflicted upon her. She deserves the right to report a crime to the police without fearing retaliation. She deserves privacy and freedom from fear. She deserves the same constitutional protections that the man accused of raping her has enjoyed.
If anything, that’s the least she deserves.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist working on the Kobe Bryant case. He also studies constitutional law at the University of Florida.