Where do we draw the line between apathy and mourning after the death of an individual credibly accused of horrible things? Do we define an individual by the wrong that they may have done or do we only pay attention to the good when they die? And when is the “right” time to discuss these things? Is there ever a “right” time and who gets to decide that?
The death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter on January 26th, 2020 has caused a confusing stir of emotions. Countless fans and celebrities have been mourning the death of the athlete and his daughter after a tragic plane crash that killed 7 others. (Though we seem to forget about the others whose lives are equally valuable). Meanwhile, we are reminded of the rape case presented by a 19-year-old girl in Colorado in 2003. She was a teenager, not much older than his second oldest daughter, Natalia (17 years old as of January 2020). In life, it couldn’t be discussed in fear of “ruining his life”, and in death, it can’t be discussed in fear of “disrespecting him”. He is also known to have been a serial cheater on his wife, Vanessa, with dozens of women, but this has been ignored as well.
Our sources include the official public transcript of the interrogation of Bryant by Detectives Loya and Winters.
Let’s take a look at the details of the sexual assault case in 2003, from articles both before and after Bryant’s death, based on the transcript of his interrogation.
This is the documented narrative of the accuser, based on the police report:
“…she returned to his room around 10:30 p.m., and then showed Bryant the resort’s on-site facilities, including the spa, exercise, room, outdoor pool, and outdoor jacuzzi. She claims the tour portion was witnessed by Bob Pietrack, the bellman and a high-school friend of the accuser. Then, the two allegedly returned to Bryant’s room, sat down, and talked.
“We were talking and [Bryant] asked me to open the jacuzzi for him,” she told police. “I told him that my shift was over and I was gonna go home. He proceeded to try and convince me to come back in 15 minutes, which I told him I would just so I could get out of there and then I was just gonna leave and not come back. Um, I stood up to leave, he stood up, asked me to give him a hug. I gave him a hug and he started kissing me and I let him kiss me. And the kissing continued then he took off his pants. And that’s when I tried to back up and leave. And that’s when he started to choke me.”
Asked by police what she was thinking at the time, she responded, “I was thinking that his actions were getting physical, and that I wanted to get out of the room.” She estimates the kissing lasted for five minutes, and that that part was consensual. What happened after, she says, was not. “He started, um, groping me, I guess I’d say,” she told officers. “Putting his hands on me, grabbing my butt, my chest. Trying to lift up my skirt. Proceeded to take off his own pants. Trying to grab my hand and make me touch him.”
“I told him once that I needed to leave,” she added. “He didn’t say anything. If he did [hear me] he didn’t make any gestures or anything that would let me know that he did.”
At this point, the accuser told police that Bryant began to get rough with her: “When he took off his pants that’s when I started to kinda back up, and try to push his hands off me and that’s when he started to choke me. He wasn’t choking me enough that I couldn’t breathe, just choking me to the point that I was scared.”
Bryant then, she told police, began “grabbing and rubbing” her vagina over her panties. That lasted “two to three minutes, and during that time I was trying to uh, pull away.” Then, she says, he grabbed her neck with both arms. She claims that she didn’t say anything to him at this time, but he knew she was trying to leave “because I kept trying to back away and move towards the door.”
According to the accuser, Bryant put his body between her and the door. “I try and walk to the side, and he would walk to the side with me. And that’s when he started to put his hands on my neck,” she said, adding, “He was groping me, I tried to leave, tried to break away, that’s when he grabbed my neck. And at that point I was just looking at him, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say.”
“Then he held me by my neck and physically forced me over to the side of the couch,” she continued. “That’s when he continually had one hand around my neck and with his other hand pushed me over to the side of the two chairs um, turned me around and bent me over and lifted up my skirt.” She told police that “at that point I was just kinda scared and I said no a few times,” adding she said no “when he lifted up my skirt” and again “when he took off my underwear.”
When asked by police how she knew Bryant had heard her, she replied, “Because every time I said no he tightened his hold around me.”
The accuser said that, with one arm still around her neck, Bryant “would lean his face real close to me and ask me questions.” The question: “You’re not gonna tell anybody right.”
“I said no. And he didn’t hear me or asked me to say it louder. Wanted me to turn around and look at him while I said it,” she told police. She said that Bryant asked her the question “three or four” times, and her response every time was “no” because “I was scared that if I told him yes, I’m gonna tell somebody, I’m gonna get out of here now, that he would become more physical with me. Or try harder to keep me in there.”
“And then,” she said, “he lifted up my skirt, took off my underwear and, and came inside me.” She continued: “That’s when he kept coming inside me and then he leaned his face toward mine and asked me if I liked it when a guy came on my face, I said no. Then he was like what did you say. Grabbed and like tightened his hold on my neck, I said no. He said he was gonna do it anyway. And then at that point I got a little bit more aggressive with him and tried to release his hands from my neck. And he was still behind me and at that point he’s still choking me, I was not trying as hard as I could of to get away, but I was still trying.
The penetration, she told police, lasted about “five minutes,” during which time she was crying, saying that the crying began “when he was coming inside, or started having sex with me.” During this, Bryant reportedly said, “I like Vail, Colorado.”
“When I started to get a little bit more aggressive, tried harder to get away, that’s when he stopped,” she said. “I stood up and turned around and he forced me to stay in the room until I had calmed down a little bit. Made me fix my hair and wash my face.”
Afterward, she told officers that Bryant issued her a warning. “'[This] is just between the two, the two of us nobody is gonna know about this, you’re not going to tell anybody.’ Not asking me, just telling me.” (Interrogation transcript, DailyBeast)
We learned that the accuser came from a wealthy family in Colorado, and so extortion is now a less likely scenario. We also learned that Bryant recognizes the event was not consensual for the accuser. “Sex” without consent is rape.
We have heard the accuser’s story. Now we will look at the accuser’s medical examination:
During the preliminary hearing, Det. Winters testified that the accuser had been examined the day after the alleged assault by Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) at the Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
“[The nurse] stated that there were several lacerations to the victim’s posterior fourchette or vaginal area, and two of those lacerations were approximately one centimeter in length,” testified Det. Winters. “And there were many, I believe, 2 millimeter lacerations. Too many to count… [The nurse] stated that the injuries were consistent with penetrating genital trauma. That it’s not consistent with consensual sex.”
Det. Winters further stated that the nurse told him the vaginal injuries had most likely occurred within “24 hours,” and that the accuser had “a small bruise on her left jaw line.” Also, that examiners had found “blood excretions” on Bryant’s T-shirt “to about the waistline.” The blood, testified Det. Winters, had “the same DNA profile as the victim in this case.” (Interrogation transcript, DailyBeast)
He was to be charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment, which could have sent him to jail for life. According to the New York Times, court documents detailed a hospital examination of his accuser which revealed tears in her vaginal wall and a bruise on her neck. On top of that, there was blood on her underwear and Bryant’s shirt, and the basketball player told the police he had not explicitly asked her for consent…She dropped the charges on the condition that Bryant issue a formal apology in court, which his lawyer did on his behalf. (Metro)
The woman’s name and transcripts of closed legal hearings were leaked and the national media aired details about her sexual and mental health history, which Bryant’s lawyers used to paint her as unstable, promiscuous, and hungry for fame. Shortly before trial was scheduled to begin in September 2004, she backed out, and prosecutors dropped the charges. (MotherJones)
“The Kobe Bryant rape case has, in the annals of popular culture, been reduced to something of a punchline due to the aftermath—namely, Bryant’s $4 million, 8-carat purple diamond apology ring that he gifted to his wife, Vanessa. But what exactly transpired on the night of June 30, 2003, at the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, in Colorado, may always be a mystery. Despite being charged with sexual assault and false imprisonment—facing life in prison—and tearfully confessing to committing adultery with his 19-year-old accuser, Bryant’s case never made it to trial. On Sept. 1, 2004, one week before opening statements were to be made, the case was dismissed after the accuser, who had been dragged through the mud for months by the media and Bryant’s defense team, informed the court that she would not testify. The woman had filed a separate civil suit against Bryant, and had agreed to dismissal of the sexual-assault charge against him provided the athlete issued the following apology to his accuser, which was read in court by Bryant’s attorney:
First, I want to apologize directly to the young woman involved in this incident. I want to apologize to her for my behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year. Although this year has been incredibly difficult for me personally, I can only imagine the pain she has had to endure. I also want to apologize to her parents and family members, and to my family and friends and supporters, and to the citizens of Eagle, Colo. I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter. I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains. I understand that the civil case against me will go forward. That part of this case will be decided by and between the parties directly involved in the incident and will no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the citizens of the state of Colorado.
The accuser’s civil suit against Bryant was ultimately settled in March 2005, and terms of the settlement were undisclosed (the total amount civil juries in Colorado could award at the time was $2.5 million). And the accuser, it should be noted, came from a wealthy family. (DailyBeast)
“In the Kobe Bryant case, it was abominable how the accuser was treated. Everyone was at fault,” Mark Shaw, an attorney and author who covered the case for ESPN and USA Today, told ThinkProgress. “This poor woman, they wore her down, and it happened from the first hearings…
Just days before the criminal case went to trial, the alleged victim decided to stop cooperating and the charges were dropped. Up until that moment, she had been put through the ringer. She had friends, acquaintances, and even strangers accept money from the tabloids or gifts from television producers to tell stories — some the truth with a spin to it, others outright lies. Photos of the alleged victim were also leaked and plastered all over magazines in the supermarket. Even the Eagle County court contributed to the onslaught, by inadvertently making private court documents public.
As Shaw wrote at the time, “with her identity known, her past sex life revealed, her mental state common knowledge, and her life in shambles due to constant anguish about the motive behind the charges, it is no wonder that she threw in the towel.
Because the case received so much coverage, everyone, even those not paying close attention, saw what happened to the alleged victim. It’s nearly impossible to measure that impact. According to Shapiro’s book, however, there are other women who had similar encounters with Bryant — one in particular who was able to escape before an assault occurred — who wouldn’t cooperate with the Colorado trial because of how the alleged victim in that case was treated.” (ThinkProgress)
“The woman’s attorney, John Clune, revealed that police were investigating a rape crisis counselor who may have been trying to sell information about the woman.
“I had a discussion with the FBI. The counselor was under investigation for conspiracy to sell her counseling file,” Clune said”. (People)
The accused seemed to have had consensual sex with someone else around the time of the incident, based on forensic evidence and was an entirely separate event. Bryant’s defense team ran with that information. The name of the accused was leaked to the public and psychiatric records were used in the trial to discredit her. The accused was painted as promiscuous and mentally unstable after it was dug up that she had tried to commit suicide that year while battling depression. The accuser received rape and death threats. She withdrew charges consequently.
Are we more concerned about a woman lying more than a man being a rapist? Rape is incredibly common. False reports are not as common (see bottom of post).
On “CBS This Morning”, respected reporter, Gayle King, spoke with Lisa Leslie, WNBA star about the death of the athlete. She asked her whether,
“as a fellow basketball legend and a woman, she felt that the charge (which was later dismissed) complicated his legacy” (HuffPost). “Leslie said it did not, outlining that the violent allegations against Bryant were ‘just not the person that I know.’ ‘But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it though,’ said King in the interview. ‘As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.'”(Buzzfeed)
For this question and comment alone that was taken out of the context of a professional interview, King received countless death and rape threats, and even received an aggressive video from Snoop Dogg with personal attacks and profanity,
“funky, dog-haired bitch, how dare you try and tarnish my mother-fucking homeboy’s reputation, punk motherfucker. Respect the family and back off, bitch, before we come get you” (Buzzfeed)
King went on to say, there was “no disrespect intended”, and that she merely posed a question during these confusing times as she mourns the Bryants’ death (Buzzfeed).
Another reporter, Felicia Sonmez, for Washington Post, tweeted this link to an article on the allegations of sexual assault made against him in 2003: “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case: The DNA Evidence, the Accuser’s Story, and the Half-Confession“. The tweeted article was published on Apr. 11, 2016 by DailyBeast. She was attacked by fans on Twitter immediately.
“Well, THAT was eye-opening,” she wrote. “To the 10,000 people (literally) who have commented and emailed me with abuse and death threats, please take a moment and read the story — which was written (more than three) years ago, and not by me.” (NYTimes)
Sonmez “was placed on administrative leave while The Post reviews whether tweets about the death of Kobe Bryant violated the Post newsroom’s social media policy. The tweets displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”, said Washington Post (NYTimes).
We tend to attack the women who bring up controversial events more than the individuals accused of these events.
In February of 2020, we have just heard the news that Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of 3rd-degree rape and criminal sexual act. This took years and millions of individuals campaigning through the #MeToo movement. We have learned that it took approximately 100 women to come forward about sexual misconduct at his hands, and about 50 women for Bill Cosby. Can we only take accusations seriously when they come in such shocking numbers? Isn’t one enough? Don’t we want to prevent potential future victims? It should not be shocking that abuse of power happens quite often in every industry.
“As the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein is currently on trial in New York for sexual misconduct allegations that galvanized the #MeToo movement, the renewed interest in Bryant’s case has raised questions about how much has actually changed since 2003.
‘If something like that had happened in this time, with this movement going on, the repercussions would have been far greater for him than losing a few endorsements,’ said Miki Turner, a journalism professor at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.” (TheGuardian)
“When he [Bryant] retired from the NBA in 2016, stories appeared urging the public to remember the accuser. And when the #MeToo movement gained steam in late 2017, Bryant’s case attracted renewed attention. In 2018, an animation festival dropped him from its jury after a petition urged organizers to do so. “This is an urgent time to say NO to toxic and violent behavior against women,” the petition read. A similar petition to rescind his nomination for an Academy Award that same year, however, failed to gain traction, and he won the Oscar for the short film Dear Basketball. He will be honored at the annual awards show next month.” (TheGuardian)
“Obituaries and news reports from some of the nation’s top news companies omitted mentions of the rape trial, which at the time was such a media frenzy it was compared to the OJ Simpson case. Death threats were made against people who mentioned it on social media, and a Washington Post reporter was suspended for sharing an article about it on Twitter”. (TheGuardian)
“Mark Shaw, a former criminal defense lawyer who worked as an analyst on the Bryant case, said he was concerned about how little attention has been given to the accuser in coverage of Bryant’s death. “Some of the coverage I see just brushes over all this and the victim is left outside the door,” Shaw said.
During the initial proceedings, the woman was named in some media reports, despite a Colorado law meant to stop that from happening, and Bryant’s lawyers at the time emphasized her “promiscuity” and history of depression.
“It’s a great example of what can happen to somebody who comes forward and makes allegations like this,” Shaw said. “I have no doubt that what happened in the Bryant case dissuaded many women.”
Shaw said he was “disturbed” by Bryant’s attitude in the courtroom and believes if the case had gone to trial, Bryant would have been convicted.
And despite progress from the #MeToo movement, Shaw said he thinks to this day people’s first instinct is to doubt those who accuse the wealthy and famous of sexual assault.” (TheGuardian)
Bryant had first denied having any contact with the accuser, then changed his story when confronted with evidence by the police – evidence such as the bruise on her neck, consistent with her claim that Bryant had choked her, as well as the tears and bruises on her genitals, his semen inside her, and her blood on his shirt. During the criminal proceedings, the media and Bryant’s legal team used the accuser’s real name repeatedly, and dragged out lurid details of her sexual and psychiatric history as evidence that she couldn’t be trusted. She was hounded by the media, smeared as slutty and crazy in print, and threatened by fans. Eventually, she stopped cooperating with the investigation. This could be because she made the whole thing up, and realized that she made a mistake. That is possible. It is also possible, and more likely, that she stopped cooperating because she was 19, terrified, and facing the full force of media hostility and the legal resources of a very rich, globally popular man…
Now that Bryant is dead, it is likely that for his accuser, the traumas of the trial and media attention will be reproduced in miniature. She might be hounded online, or asked for comment by reporters. She might receive threats. At the very least, she will be reminded of what were probably the worst months of her life. For her, we can wish security and peacefulness and loving, supportive surroundings in what is likely a more complicated and distressing time for her than we can imagine. We can wish her safety, and privacy.
But to those mourning for Bryant as they remembered him – as an athlete, or a philanthropist, or as an avatar of youthfulness, skill and success – these wishes can seem very inconvenient, even insulting to their grief. In the hours after Bryant’s death, any mention of the rape accusation on social media was met with derision, contempt or calls not to speak ill of the dead. There is a sense that the alleged rape is minor compared with the rest of Bryant’s legacy, that the pain of his young accuser is irrelevant, and should not be debited from Bryant’s moral account. This chorus has put feminists in the position of making the assertion that rape is more morally significant than basketball.
The reality is that most of those who are grieving Bryant are simply not thinking about his accuser very much at all. For my part, I find myself thinking less about Bryant than about his young daughter, Gianna, who died with him in the crash. Those who wanted to believe in the better vision of Bryant noted that he was taking her to her own basketball tournament. This, they implied, was a sign that he could not be a misogynist, or a rapist, because he was choosing to spend time with his daughter, choosing to invest in her talent, her ambition. It is hard to accept that this Bryant, this version of him as a kindly father spending time with a young girl, could coexist within the same man who put his hands around the neck of a woman not much older than that daughter, and squeezed. That both of these people could potentially live inside one body – the attentive father, the allegedly violent rapist – is the great mystery and contradiction of Kobe Bryant’s life. (The Guardian)
Bryant also recalls the guilt he felt when his wife, Vanessa, had a miscarriage in 2005, around the time of the sexual assault case which proceeded in 2004. (NyDailyNews).
Kobe Bryant choked up and fought back tears as he took the blame for his wife’s miscarriage, calling it: “Something I gotta carry forever.” “The reality is it happened because of me. That’s something I have to deal with,” admitted Bryant, who suffered a season-ending rotator cuff tear in January. The Los Angeles Lakers star made the emotional revelation, which dates back to his 2004 rape case, in the Showtime documentary “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.” “We were expecting…and um…expecting our second child during that time…and there was just so much stress, she actually, she actually miscarried,” Bryant said of his wife Vanessa. “It’s something…I have a real hard time dealing with that ’cause I felt like it was just my fault,” Bryant said in the documentary, which premiered Saturday. “We should be building our family,” he continued. “But because of my mistake, because of this tough year, we lost a baby.”
Rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police (o). Only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities (g). More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault (c). (NSRVC)
Only about 3% of rapists will ever go to jail. (RAINN)
Multiple credible sources state that only 1-8% (usually 5%) of reported sexual assaults are false, yet we act as though nearly all of them are false;
False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases / Study of Reported Rapes in Victoria 2000-2003, Summary Research Report / A Gap or Chasm? Attrition in Reported Rape Cases, Rape and False Accusations of Rape / False Allegations of Rape and/or Domestic Abuse: Guidance for Charging Perverting the Course of Justice and Wasting Police Time in Cases involving Allegedly False Allegations of Rape and/or Domestic Abuse / Policing and Prosecuting Sexual Assault in Los Angeles City and County: A Collaborative Study in Partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office / False allegations of rape / Aftermath of Rape / False Allegations of Rape / Unfounding Sexual Assault: Examining the Decision to Unfound and Identifying False Reports / Different systems, similar outcomes? Tracking attrition in reported rape cases in eleven countries / NSRVC: False Reporting / Almost No One Is Falsely Accused of Rape / Men are more likely to be raped than be falsely accused of rape
Do we ever truly know someone, especially someone so distant and famous?
Does staying quiet, even after death, perpetuate violence and show the world that this behavior is acceptable and not a crime?
When someone passes, do we bring to light the horrible things one may have done, or only focus on the good, or say nothing at all?
Interview with Bryant by Detectives Loya and Winters: Official Transcript