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2003-07-31

Should the Media ID the Alleged Victim in the Kobe Bryant Sexual Assault Case?

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Pulitzer Prize wining LA Times columnist David Shaw debates rape survivor and advocate Karen Pomer over whether the media should rethink its guidelines on naming victims of rape and sexual abuse.

It will likely turn out to be the biggest sports criminal case since O.J. Superstar basketball player Kobe Bryant has been charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman.

The story has been the top story on sports pages across the country because it involves one of the nation’s best known and most talented athlethes. At the age of 24, Bryant has already led his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, to three world championships.

Bryant became a pro straight out of high school and became a star NBA player immediately.

But now the story has also moved not just from the sports pages but to columns on the media and how journalists should cover the case.

The big question is should the media name the woman who is accusing Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.

So far no major media organization has named the 19-year-old woman but last week radio host Tom Leykis broke precedent and named her on the air. Her name is one of the most searched items on the Internet.

Now several journalists are coming forward to say it is time to reconsider the long-held policy of not naming rape victims. Among them is former Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser.

A recent column in the Los Angeles Times is titled "If the Accused is Named, the Accuser Should Be Too." The author is Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Shaw. He joins us on the phone.

We are also joined by Karen Pomer, founder of the Rainbow Sisters Project, an advocacy group for rape victims. type lead here

  • David Shaw, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He recently wrote the column "If the Accused Is Named, the Accuser Should Be Too."
  • Karen Pomer, founder of the Rainbow Sisters Project, an advocacy group for rape survivors. She lives in Los Angeles.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZALEZ: It will likely turn out to be the biggest criminal prosecution of a sports hero since O.J. Simpson. Basketball super star Kobe Bryant has been charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman. The story has been top story on sports pages and even front pages of newspapers around the country. because it involves one of the nation’s best known athletes. At the age of 24, Bryant has already led his team, the "Los Angeles Lakers" to three world championships. Bryant became a pro straight out of high school and became a star NBA player immediately. But now the story has moved not just from the sports pages but to columns on the media and how journalists should cover the case. The big question is, should the media name the woman who is accusing Kobe Bryant of sexual assault.

AMY GOODMAN: So far no major media organization has named the 19-year-old woman. But last week radio host Tom Lakos broke precedent and named her on the air. Now several journalists are coming forward to say it’s time to reconsider the long held policy of not naming rape victims in some cases. Among them is the former Washington Post ombudsman, Geneva Overholser. A recent column in Los Angeles Times is entitled it If the Accused is Named, the Accuser Should Be Too. The author is Pulitzer prize-winning journalist, David Shaw. He joins us on the phone. We’re also joined by Karen Pomer, the founder of the "Rainbow Sister Project" which is an advocacy group for rape victims. Karen herself is a rape survivor. Let’s start with David Shaw, make your case for why the accuser in the Kobe Bryant case should be named.

DAVID SHAW: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Good to have you with us.

DAVID SHAW: Well, the bottom line of the argument for me is that our criminal justice system rests on the guarantee that somebody is innocent until proven guilty, and that they have the right to confront their accuser. And while we have those guarantees in the court of law, it seems to me we also ought to have them in the court of public opinion. This is the only crime where we do not name the accuser. And it seems to me that—while I’m fully cognizant of the concerns that this stigmatizes the accuser—I think that we compound that stigma by treating this crime differently than we do any other crime. And in this era of the Internet and 24/7 news, it’s a bit of a pretense. Anybody who wants to know her name, knows it now or can find it out. It leaks out, it’s on the internet. And I think that by trying to treat it like a dirty little secret, we’re suggesting as it used to be suggested, that somehow the accuser’s responsible for what happened. And we all know that is not true. That rape is a crime of violence, not of sex. That the victim bears absolutely no responsibility for what the rapist did. And I think that we play into those stereotypes by refusing to disclose her name.

JUAN GONZALEZ: You say in your article at one point, "Surely the stigma attached to being accused of sexual assault is even worse than the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual assault. So why publish and broadcast his name and not hers." Why do you believe that this policy has developed in the media?

DAVID SHAW: Well because I think that there was a time when we didn’t even talk about rape. When I started out in my career, you couldn’t even use the word "rape" in a newspaper. We always called it a "criminal assault." Which is a legal term which does not connote exactly the horror of what has happened. And the specificity of what has happened. And we felt it was a sensitive and humanitarian thing to do to protect the woman from any kind of stigma, any indication, any implication that somehow she played a role in this. And I think that we’ve come a long way from that, I think we’ve come to realize now that the woman doesn’t play a role, that it is not her fault, that it is entirely the fault of the perpetrator. And I think that by refusing to disclose her name we’re just continuing that ages old and outdated, out-moded policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Karen Pomer, your response?

KAREN POMER: Well, I don’t know what planet Mr. Shaw lives on, but as a rape survivor, I would love to think that that has changed, but it has not. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me what I was wearing the night I was raped, what I was doing out so late, I could definitely retire now. Making a choice to come forward and go public is a very different thing than being outed by the news media. It’s very empowering to tell your story publicly. But you really have to be prepared for what you will be subjected to by reporters. One well-known news anchor said to me off camera that if her husband — her husband would leave her if she was raped because after all she would be damaged goods. And this is just a few years ago. I don’t think that things have changed enough. And certainly I mean, I think about how the now 90-year-old woman who was raped by the same serial rapist that I was raped by, how painful it would be to her if her name was published in the newspaper because she claimed she was raped. I mean it’s — the confidentiality question and the — keeping people’s names quiet is certainly — is a double-edged sword, I agree with that part of it. But I don’t think it’s up to the news media to out us, I think that we need to take the steps to out ourselves. And I encourage women to come forward, I think that this woman who has accused Kobe Bryant of rape, I think it would not be a bad thing for her to come forward and speak about it now if she felt emotionally ready to. It took me months to prepare myself to, quote, unquote, come out. And it was only because — the only reason I did speak out, because it really is giving up a lot of protection to do that, is because the police had completely botched the investigation into my case.

You know, this whole discussion really kills me because a year ago I wrote an Op-ed piece for the L.A. Times because these teenage girls, almost exactly a year ago had been kidnapped and raped. And they spoke out and gave their names and were very publicly — were on the cover of People Magazine. And a lot of these same media pundits were criticizing them for doing that. And saying they were just looking for their 15 minutes of fame. So rape is very different than any other crime. Because it’s one of the only crimes in which the victim is still blamed. I’m sorry, David Shaw, but you need to speak to some rape survivors because we are still blamed for being raped.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Shaw, let me ask you this: Are you saying that the woman should be named because she should bear the same level of scrutiny as the person she’s accusing?

DAVID SHAW: Well, it’s not a question of scrutiny, it’s a question of fairness. And let’s face it, in this particular case, everybody in her hometown knows who she is. I mean who are we protecting her reputation from? I don’t know who the Neanderthal news anchor was, who spoke to Karen. I have no sympathy for any guy who says I’m going to leave my wife if she’s raped. I think that any woman who stays with some guy that she thinks would act that way, there’s something wrong with her for staying with a guy who would act that way. No, I don’t think she deserves any kind of scrutiny. I’m not advocating that we publish her sexual history, all that is irrelevant. And prejudicial. I do think that the same public identification is warranted and is called for, after all I do think that it is certainly worse to be accused of being a rapist than it is to be, thought to be a victim of rape. And so far there has been no adjudication of law and yet Kobe Bryant’s name has been, and his picture has been on the front page of the L.A. Times and the New York Times and the network news and the local news, and she hasn’t been. And it seems to me if she’s accusing him of a crime that she also ought to have her name out there.

KAREN POMER: How would it advance the story to have her name out there? I don’t really understand that. Certainly Kobe Bryant knows her name and he’s the one that is being accused. This girl is — we don’t know what happened behind those closed doors. She needs to be given the benefit of the doubt as well as Kobe Bryant being presumed innocent. We can also give her the benefit of the doubt as well. I don’t think that — for her — to name her name I don’t see how that helps. And I personally would rather see reporters really look into a lot of other questions about sexual assault and use this whole story as an opportunity to educate the public and educate themselves first of all about rape. You know, the conservative estimates is that a quarter of a million women in this women are raped every year. These aren’t people making any kind of false accusations. These are confirmed rape cases.

AMY GOODMAN: Well on that note I want to thank you both very much for being with us. And finally the judge presiding in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case has warned reporters that they may not get a seat in his courtroom if they publish the name or photograph of the woman who has accused him.

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