November 11, 2003

Did she really say no?

One of the most widely covered and brutal rape cases of the year just got sicker. Since he was first charged, the media have reveled in the frenzy of the Kobe Bryant rape trial. Going beyond the media circus that usually surrounds celebrity trials, the press has resorted to incredulous headlines and photos to boost sales.

It makes you wonder if Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was correct in saying that Bryant's rape allegation was good for business.

The hype surrounding Bryant's charge of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman may help sell papers and Lakers tickets, but it can hardly be called right. This point became especially clear last week when the tabloid The Globe published a shocking photo of Bryant's accuser on the front page. The photo, which runs nearly three-fourths of a page high, features the woman raising her skirt to reveal a garter belt. It was taken at her high school prom. Next to the photo is the headline "Kobe's Accuser: [Her name]; Did she really say no?"

Besides the question of whether revealing a rape victim's name is ethical in journalism, The Globe's sensational cover raises issues about the very nature of rape and how it is depicted in our society. It demands that we ask when journalism ceases being the "great bulwark of liberty" that Roman writer Cato declared it and becomes a biased and theatrical exercise in making money.

The photo of Bryant's accuser and accompanying headline were obviously meant to suggest that the woman was falsely accusing Bryant of rape. The fact that The Globe chose a photo of the woman at her prom, where it is traditional for girls to wear garters that they later present to their dates, is especially twisted. Her pose, an innocent gesture of this tradition, was warped by The Globe's editors into the image of a vixen who seduces naïve men and later accuses them of rape. It summons a myth commonly held by our society—that rape is about sex.

Despite countless studies on the topic and recent efforts to develop education about sexual assault, this myth continues to be pervasive in our culture and reflected in our media. Whether Kobe Bryant actually raped this woman, and there is a large amount of evidence that he did, is not what is at issue here. What is at issue is the suggestion that people ask to be raped and that accusations of rape are often false.

The truth that experts have discovered over and over again is that rape is no more about sex than murder is about guns. In a murder, a gun is used as a tool to hurt a perpetrator's victim. Similarly, in rape, sex is used as a tool to harm a victim. Sexual assault is not a crime of lust, but of power and domination.

Even those who most aggressively oppose this assertion will admit that the effects of rape are profound. Sexual assault survivors often feel the ramifications of the rape for weeks, months, and years after the assault. The effects rape has on someone's finances, ego, and relationships, not to mention body, are tremendous. It is outrageous to suggest that someone "asks" to undergo these effects, the sum of which is known as Rape Trauma Syndrome.

What about the statistics we've all heard about the number of accusations rescinded by supposed victims of rape? In fact, police studies show that the percentage of rapes that turn out to be false accusations is the same as that of many other crimes.

The fact is that most people who claim to have been raped are telling the truth. The public's perception that false accusations are common, however, makes dealing with rape that much harder for the victim once an assault has occurred.

This assertion seems more relevant than ever as the University of Chicago ends its observation of Sexual Assault Awareness Week. Myths about the nature of rape are alive and well in our society. As an educational harbor, the University is the perfect place to begin dispelling these myths and rallying around the truth about rape. The myth of the seductive vixen that cries "rape" is decidedly wrong.

For free 24 hour, seven-days-a-week information and assistance with rape related issues, please call the Rape Crisis Hotline at 1-888-293-2080.