Kobe Bryant's guilt or innocence in the alleged rape of a 19-year-old Colorado woman will now be up to a jury to decide, but the case raises important moral and social issues that extend far beyond this incident. Have laws intended to protect rape victims gone too far, making it possible for women to turn disappointing sexual encounters into rape allegations? Do women bear any responsibility if they encourage sexual attention and willingly participate in kissing, fondling or even intercourse, and then decide to put the brakes on? Does "no" always mean no -- and is it necessary for a man to get verbal permission before he makes any physical contact with a woman? To what extent have we criminalized certain behavior that would be better handled by moral opprobrium?
In deciding to send the case to trial, Colorado judge Frederick Gannett took the unusual step of issuing an eight-page written order in which he raised troubling questions about the prosecution's evidence. "Almost all of the evidence introduced at the preliminary hearing permits multiple inferences which, when viewed either independently or collectively, and upon reasonable inference, do not support a finding of probable cause," Judge Gannett wrote. Yet, Colorado law compelled the judge to send the case to trial anyway because he was required to view the evidence in the way that most supports the prosecution's interpretation, "notwithstanding inconsistencies in (the victim's) statements and the other evidence."
The Bryant case is a classic "he said, she said" situation. According to testimony from the police detective who interviewed her and investigated the charges, Bryant's accuser claims that Bryant forcibly raped her in his hotel suite after she had flirted with him, escorted him to his room, and willingly kissed and hugged him for several minutes. Bryant claims that the sex was completely consensual.
Although during the investigation someone leaked stories that the alleged victim had sustained significant injuries during the encounter, the evidence offered at the preliminary hearing was far from compelling. The victim's clothes weren't torn -- despite her allegation that they had been forcibly removed. Her injuries consisted of "microscopic lacerations" and a tiny bruise on her chin, which the judge noted had not been observed by the investigating officers.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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