The following article was originally published on Sept. 18, 2003 as a guest commentary in the Denver Post.
Accusing the AccuserBy Melanie Stafford
Kobe Bryant is innocent until proven guilty. That is the law in Eagle County, just as it is the law in every other county in the United States.
There is legitimate concern over whether an African-American male can get a fair trial by a "jury of his peers" in Eagle County, which has fewer than 1 percent blacks, as opposed to 7 percent in Colorado, 12 percent across the nation, and a much higher percentage in most urban areas. The legacy of racism in our justice system so tainted the O.J. Simpson trial that we will never know what actually happened in that case.
However, certain members of the media have already tried, convicted and sentenced someone in Eagle County who was not even arrested or charged with any crime. The 19-year-old woman who walked into a police office on July 1 to report a sexual assault has had her name and photograph plastered all over the tabloid media, talk-show airwaves and the Internet.
Her credibility has been tried by having her past, which has nothing to do with the events of the night in question, paraded through the court of public opinion. She has been convicted by a self-appointed jury of people who know absolutely nothing about her, not to mention about the evidence in this case, as being an unreliable witness to her own experiences. She has been sentenced by media judges to a lifetime without her constitutional right to privacy.
No matter what the outcome of the trial, this young woman will forever be the victim of indecent exposure to which she did not consent.
This is just the high-tech version of "What was she wearing? She must have asked for it!" Certainly there have been decades of legal battles against blaming the rape victim for the perpetrator's crime. It does not matter what did or did not happen in Greeley earlier this spring. It makes no difference what did or did not happen in Edwards in May of this year. It is irrelevant whether a young woman carried out her duties as the concierge of a hotel and spa before the hour of 11 p.m. on June 30. And it most certainly is of no consequence what she was wearing or saying in the course of those events.
The one and only thing that matters in this case is what happened between a man and a woman inside a hotel room one night. The only way to determine that is to examine the evidence found in that room and on their persons. The only people who can do that are the 12 members of the jury yet to be chosen. No one else has any business speculating about the outcome of this case.
The basketball fans out there who have sent death threats to the young woman, to her friends and family and to law-enforcement officials of Eagle County had better hope nothing similar ever happens to their sisters, their mothers, their girlfriends or their wives. But it might, since it happens to one out of four of us in our lifetimes. In that case, they had better pray it does not occur in the context of someone's fame or notoriety. But that appears to be commonplace these days. In that case, they had better beg on bended knee that people (unlike them) have the decency not to forward their family's name all over cyberspace.
While these victims are prostrating themselves to the gods of human compassion, they might as well plead that their sister's, mother's, girlfriend's or wife's race not differ from that of the perpetrator. That circumstance brings into the courtroom a centuries-old legacy of racism in jury selection, judicial election, quality of legal aid, and credibility of witnesses, not to mention blatant sentencing disparities.
And, last but not least, they had better pray that the feminist movement prevails in placing emergency contraception in every hospital emergency room and keeps the current administration from overturning the constitutional right to abortion, lest their sister, mother, girlfriend or wife become pregnant by a rapist.
That will give them something to speculate about.
Melanie Stafford is a national board member and south-central regional director for the National Organization for Women. The views in this column are her own.
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