Eric A Barreras, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, US Coast Guard District Eleven
EVAWI, Advisory Board Member
Last week we watched as Kobe Bryant received an Academy Award for the film “Dear Basketball.” As many of us remember, in July of 2003, Mr. Bryant was arrested in connection with the rape of a 19-year old woman who worked in a hotel where he was staying. As a retired detective specializing in sexual assault investigations, a former criminal defense investigator, and a current advocate for survivors of sexual assault, my heart goes out to this survivor and the countless others who have been impacted emotionally by Mr. Bryant’s recent accomplishment.
Mr. Bryant initially lied to investigators and denied engaging in any sexual activities with the victim. Upon further questioning, Mr. Bryant admitted to engaging in sexual activities with her but claimed they were consensual. The case was dropped after the victim refused to participate further, even though there was evidence to substantiate the victim’s report (bloody clothing, bruising around the victim’s neck area, forensic evidence that supported sexual acts occurred, and testimony from a hotel employee who witnessed the victim leaving the hotel emotionally distraught). The victim had received several death threats from Kobe Bryant supporters who were incapable of seeing him as a rapist. The victim later filed a civil suit, which was settled out of court and included Mr. Bryant’s public apology to the victim.
About one year following the victim’s report, Mr. Bryant signed a seven-year, $136 million contract, and regained several of his major endorsements. He was also named the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2008 and the Finals' Most Valuable Player in 2009 and 2010. We can now add Academy Award Winner to his list of accomplishments.
This survivor had to sit idly by as the world chanted Bryant’s name in the arena for twelve years following her sexual assault. I can only imagine the pain she must have felt when her assaulter was hoisted up on an even bigger platform and applauded by the public after winning an Academy Award. He was never proven innocent, he merely benefited from the victim’s inability to continue with the trial. This is something very few people understand. I believed her then, I believe her now, and I will continue to believe her moving forward, despite the overwhelming lack of support she has received over the years. If more criminal justice professionals would just Start by Believing, perhaps victims wouldn’t be so afraid to participate in the investigative process. And maybe—just maybe—more offenders will face justice.