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Jewish World Review August 8, 2003/ 10 Menachem-Av, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Naming rape victims may liberate mostly the rapist | "Media arrogance" is to redundancy what "military intelligence" has been to oxymorons. Still, the degree of arrogance of which the media are sometimes capable is stunning, as with the current debate about naming rape victims.

The discussion seems to resurface each time a new celebrity rape case makes headlines. This time, as if anyone needs reminding, Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old employee of the hotel where he was a guest. The woman admits to entering his room voluntarily, but says Bryant blocked the door when she tried to leave and raped her.

Bryant has admitted to having sex with his accuser, but claims it was consensual. He said/she said doesn't get any more vivid than that.

Predictably, news folks have been swarming this story like flies on a picnic. Talking heads and the Retired Blond Prosecutors Union effectively had indicted, smeared, tried, condemned and forgiven Bryant before he made his first court date.

In the meantime, media seers have debated whether to name rape accusers and whether protecting an alleged victim further stigmatizes her. Those in favor of publishing rape accusers' names routinely haul out their biggest gun - the one most likely to force women into a salted-slug writhe of feminist repulsion.

To not name an accuser, they contend, is "paternalistic." Talk about an abomination. Next thing you know bailiffs will be holding doors for the little whiners and offering them hankies.

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In cases of rape, a little more paternalism would not be unwelcome. To suggest that protecting rape victims is somehow condescending to women is to distort the goals of equality. In rape, men and women plainly are not equal.

It is a rare day that I saddle my steed in order to defend women at the clear disadvantage of men. I don't much think of women as the weaker sex except when, say, locked in a hotel room with a 6-foot-7-inch, 210-pound athlete. As a mother of sons, I'm open to the possibility that not all young ladies are temples of virtue incapable of false accusations and deceit.

I am also sympathetic to the Kobe Bryants of the world who because of their image, power and money may be attractive targets for attention-hungry groupies. It is entirely possible that the gal in question had consensual sex with Bryant and, suffering post-coital remorse, decided to seek moral exemption.

Admittedly, such a course is an awful lot of trouble for little reward - except for that book contract down the road and the 15-minute fame thing - but we are no strangers to strangeness.

Nevertheless, it is right to protect the identity of alleged rape victims. Rape is not like any other crime. It is a violent act, but it is not only a violent act. It is also deeply personal, deeply wounding and psychologically damaging in many cases.

To insist that the involvement of the sexual organs is irrelevant is simply to ignore everything we know about life and human nature.

Naming a rape accuser makes a possible victim available for further torture. Already we're hearing about "vaginal tearing" in the Bryant case. Assuming for a moment that the woman was raped, what sort of agony would it be to hear your intimate anatomy and other details of your assault openly discussed while your name and picture are slathered across newspapers and television screens?

It's not about stigma; it's about sanity. I know few women who would submit themselves to that kind of public airing. If such scrutiny were automatic, we could reasonably predict that fewer victims would come forward and more rapists would walk.

That said - and given the emotionally charged circumstances of any sexual encounter - it's equally unfair to put a potentially innocent man through the life-ruining gauntlet of a public rape accusation. I'm not worried about Kobe Bryant should he be acquitted. He'll have all the free press he needs to set the record straight.

I do worry, however, about the falsely accused ordinary man who has no such media access and whose community will remember him only in terms of rape. In fairness to innocent men, as well as to raped women, we should name no one until a verdict is reached.

In so doing, we'd minimize added trauma to rape victims and probably see fewer false charges and ruined lives. Of course we'd also be deprived of the salacious gossip that keeps the 24/7 media machine lubricated and running through the dog days of summer. Oh well.

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