• In Kobe Case, Accuser Is Rightly Identified

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    Friday, the judge who presided over Kobe Bryant’s “rape” case announced
    that more
    sealed documents
    will soon be released.

    new facts emerging from the now-dismissed criminal case and a related
    civil court case pending, the debate surrounding Bryant continues.

    manner in which society, the media and perhaps the law approach
    “victims” is being gradually redefined.

    of the most controversial questions raised is whether Bryant’s accuser
    should be publicly named. During the criminal proceeding, the accuser’s
    name and most of her history received the nominal protection of
    Colorado’s Rape Shield Law. A media taboo against identifying “victims”
    of sexual assault ensured anonymity in the mainstream press.

    her name, photo and history flashed across the Internet. True anonymity
    was a futile
    because too many people believed it was patently unfair
    to name Bryant, who was legally presumed innocent, while extending
    the automatic presumption and protection of victimhood to his accuser.
    Veteran journalist Geneva Overholser felt strongly enough about
    that unfairness to resign
    from the Poynter Institute
    – a noted journalism education organization
    – because it deleted the accuser’s name from one of her columns.

    issue of accuser anonymity is being debated on two basic levels:
    Is it fair; and, is it possible?

    questions arise in the civil suit even though that venue extends
    no legal protection to an accuser’s identity. The accuser asked
    to be identified as “Jane Doe” on her complaint. Federal Judge Richard
    Matsch denied the motion, stating,
    “The parties appear as equals before the court and that fundamental
    principle must be protected throughout these proceedings.”

    added that the accuser’s identity was already well known.

    media taboo against naming “victims” is also weakening. Last week,
    a respected Denver newspaper, The
    Rocky Mountain News
    , identified the accuser both on its
    Web site and in a print edition. Editor John Temple explained that
    fairness required both parties in a civil case to be named. So far,
    most major media has not followed suit – one exception: the
    News Channel and FOXNews.com
    , which identified her last Friday,
    and FOX
    News’ Greta Van Susteren
    , who discussed the topic on her Friday

    accusers be named in criminal and civil court cases? Those who wish
    to identify either both or neither of the parties do so largely
    out of a desire to reduce false accusations.

    naming an accuser holds him or her accountable to the community.
    It also permits anyone who can substantiate or discredit a claim
    to come forward.

    has become an exception because of the public shame attached to
    being sexually violated. Yet, today, the greater disgrace adheres
    to whoever is accused of sexual misconduct. The disgrace involves
    not merely shame but also the likely loss of marriages, friends,
    reputation, career and wealth. Yet the damage and shame inflicted
    on those who are merely accused does not prevent the media from
    naming them.

    over the propriety of identifying both parties is quickly followed
    by speculation over whether anonymity for only one side is even
    possible. Once half of the story becomes public, can the other half
    remain confidential? The Internet has ushered in an age of instant
    and omnipresent information. Nothing short of totalitarian censorship
    may be able to enforce anonymity for “victims.”

    just one instance. The Eagle County sheriff and district attorney’s
    offices have already released a
    cascade of documents
    on the Bryant criminal case, with the page-count
    approaching 1,000.

    of the documents have been heavily
    . That is, they have been edited to delete references
    to the alleged victim’s name or to “sexual conduct held to be inadmissible
    under the Rape Shield statute.” But the careful editing provides
    no real protection.

    example, an unredacted transcript of the interview that police conducted
    with Bryant the night after the alleged rape is freely
    available online
    . [Warning: graphic language.] The implicit
    message of sites that post such documents is this: If you are going
    to release information, release it all so the public can judge.

    of Bryant’s punishment has come from public reaction; for example,
    he lost his lucrative celebrity endorsement contracts. The public
    is justified in wanting to base their judgments on all the facts,
    especially since the criminal case is no longer active. For example,
    the publication of documents has revealed that Bryant’s accuser
    told at least two lies
    to the police.

    a letter to the police from the accuser was among the previously
    sealed documents that were released after the collapse of the criminal
    case. It apologized for lying about two
    of the “rape.”

    lies were part of a legal process that could destroy another human
    being’s life. Why should the lies or the name of the accuser who
    told them receive court protection?

    Bryant saga will run on and on. In fact, the civil case may provide
    more legal theater than the criminal proceeding. For one thing,
    the accuser has procured the services of mega-hitter
    Lin Wood. Wood was
    “to address growing concerns regarding media coverage”
    and “her privacy rights.”

    accuser swings between demanding privacy and taking public action.
    As a practical matter, it is becoming increasingly apparent that
    those who bring accusations cannot have both. As a matter of fairness,
    that may be for the best.

    the record, her name is Katelyn Faber.

    21, 2004

    McElroy [send her mail] is
    the editor of ifeminists.com
    and a research fellow for The Independent Institute in Oakland,
    Calif. She is the author and editor of many books and articles,
    including the new book, Liberty
    for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

    (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

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