The dismissal of felony rape charges against Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant after the alleged victim decided not to go forward in criminal court has been followed by an orgy of dire predictions by the media that many rape victims will now be discouraged from reporting sexual assaults to the police. This editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer is typical:
“[T]he prosecutor reluctantly dropped the charges [against Bryant] because the woman involved could no longer bear the ongoing revictimization this case was inflicting on her. What she endured too often happens to those who bring rape complaints. Her woes were compounded because she brought charges against a celebrity who could afford an army of tough lawyers and was surrounded by people anxious to protect their investment in him.”
This is nonsense. Yes, it’s true that “rape-shield” laws designed to prevent criminal defense lawyers from dredging up the alleged victim’s sexual past and parading it in front of the jury are in general a good idea. Even a promiscuous woman can be raped, and rape is an appalling crime that should be prosecuted aggressively. Yet the law also recognizes that someone accused of a serious felony and facing a possible life sentence has a right to present evidence relevant to his defense. So there are exceptions even to rape-shield laws (the radical feminists don’t like that, of course, because they believe that all heterosexual sex is rape).
In the Bryant case, the evidence didn’t concern the woman’s sexual past, but her sexual present, so to speak: that she had had intercourse with another man after she was with Bryant but before she went to the police. This DNA evidence, added to the fact that she herself admitted that she had been flirting with and kissing Bryant in his hotel room just before the sex occurred–and that a forensic expert for the prosecution admitted that her injuries were consistent with consensual sex–was highly relevant to the crucial issue of whether she consented to sex with Bryant. I don’t understand what the Inquirer means when it talks about “revictimization”–because I don’t believe there was any “victimization” in a criminal sense in the first place. And I think that any jury would have agreed with me, which is why, in the end, the woman decided not to make a fool of herself in public and the prosecution dropped the case.
This doesn’t excuse the careless judicial handling of pretrial hearings in the case, which resulted, I’m told, in the inadvertent leaking of the young woman’s name to the public. Nor does it excuse Bryant’s behavior that night in that hotel room in Eagle, Colo. It was gross, loutish, boorish, ungentlemanly, and highly unbecoming a husband, father, and sports role model for youths. Any professional and financial sanctions that Bryant might suffer as a player and an endorser of products are well-deserved, in my opinion. (In slight mitigation, it should be pointed out that both Bryant and his alleged victim, ages 24 and 19 respectively when the alleged rape occurred, were clearly immature young people caught up in a culture that dotes on celebrity and looks approvingly on casual sex.)
As we all know, the alleged victim, although she could “no longer bear” the heat of criminal court, seems well able to endure the rigors of the civil lawsuit she has brought against Bryant the millionaire. As Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Houston Chronicle puts it:
“And what does it tell you that she can’t find it in herself to testify in criminal court where the objective is justice, but she ‘is’ strong enough to do so in civil court where the objective is money?”
Here at the IWF, we strongly believe that rape-shield laws should never be used to deprive someone accused of a crime of the right to defend himself, and so we applaud the prosecution’s decision not to go forward with the Bryant case (see our home page). Our senior fellow Michelle D. Bernard argues that indeed the criminal prosecution should never have been brought in the first place: “Given the facts and circumstances of this case, one can only state the obvious — the decision to charge Kobe Bryant with felony sexual assault when there was a very real question as to whether Bryant and his accuser engaged in consensual sex was flawed. This case and all that it implies is a travesty beyond words.”
Meanwhile, the alleged victim’s lawyers have been appearing on television trying to drum up sympathy for their client. Outside the ranks of the rad-fems and the editorialists who share their world-view, I don’t think they’re going to succeed.