At some point in her life, a woman debates whether to say something or shut up. It could be the supervisor who keeps looking at her breasts. The partner who won’t let her have her own bank account. Or the man who raped her. While some offenses are, in the cold calculus of our court system, weighted as more serious than others, they build and pile up in our souls over the years. Over time, they will even run together, fusing together into a pain that travels with you, as present as the air you breathe, as heavy as a stone.
So when a woman makes this decision to report a man who is hurting her, she doesn’t make it lightly. Beforehand she will weigh all the possible good and all the possible bad that will come of speaking up and if she can carry that on top of all the hurt she already must hold, every day. This is why, quite often, women choose to not report the crimes committed to them. Because women’s lives inherently teach them that they will be punished for speaking, while the man’s life will soon enough go on as if nothing happened.
And then on Sunday night Kobe Bryant won an Oscar.
It was as if there was no 2003, when a woman said that Bryant had raped her in his Colorado hotel room. The details of what the woman told police are worth going over, again, because so much of it has been lost to time. A woman who worked at the hotel, she was 19 at the time, showed him to his room and he asked her to come back later. She did. When she left the room, according to police records, a coworker saw her shaken and crying. Investigators later found out she had blood on her underwear. Her blood was on Bryant’s shirt too. She spoke to police, then watched as the criminal proceedings descended into what even the usually reserved New York Times described as having “veered from melodrama to farce.” Everything from her sexual history to her mental health was game, for both reporters and sports fans.
How did Bryant’s legal team defeat her? Using the same legal strategies as always—naming and shaming. From Lindsay Gibbs in ThinkProgress on the case and its legacy.
The preliminary hearing in October 2003 was supposed to merely be a chance for the judge to decide whether there was enough evidence to require a trial. But Bryant’s attorney, Pamela Mackey, used it as a chance to smear the alleged victim’s reputation.
Not only did Mackey use the alleged victim’s name a staggering six times during the hearing, but when she was presented with the woman’s vaginal injuries, Mackey used the victim’s sexual history against her. The high-powered lawyer brought the hearing to a screeching halt, asking, “Could it be that [the alleged victim’s] injuries were caused by having sex with three men in three days?”
As Shapiro wrote in his book, Mackey’s tactic was an effective one, because that became the story of the day, and not the evidence displayed by Deputy District Attorney Gregg Crittenden and Eagle County Sheriff’s Detective Doug Winters.
The woman eventually said she would not testify—no surprise given what had happened to her entire life since first saying that Bryant had raped her—ending the criminal case. Bryant settled with the woman instead of defending himself in a civil lawsuit. He then went on to have what is widely considered a glorious NBA career, made a ton of money, and had his own official day in the city of Los Angeles. He even got to keep his wife. It’s as if nothing happened.
To some extent, this isn’t a clean and tidy narrative for anger. There haven’t been subsequent reports of Bryant assaulting or abusing women. Perhaps he learned. Perhaps he got better. Perhaps he is the proof that the alleged can get better. The part of me that yearns for criminal justice reform knows that throwing Bryant in prison, like America already does to too many black men, is not the answer.
But there he was, Sunday night, smiling on that Oscar stage. Cracking a joke he clearly pre-wrote and getting a laugh anyway. Thanking his wife. And I couldn’t help but cry for the woman who is asking herself, right now, if I report him will anything happen to him? And I want to scream because Bryant on that stage, clinging to that golden statue, reminds her and me that the answer, still, is no.