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Effects of case will spread beyond Colorado

3/3/2005 - Kobe Bryant

DENVER -- While Kobe Bryant never ended up standing trial
for sexual assault, the effects from his high-profile case have
already spread far beyond the courtroom.

Sports marketing experts say the case has changed the way
celebrity athletes are viewed. It helped revive discussion about
when to identify alleged assault victims in the media. And it has
prompted a closer look at a Colorado law intended to protect the
privacy of people such as Bryant's 20-year-old accuser.
David Carter, a sports marketing consultant at the Los
Angeles-based Sports Business Group, said companies that rely on
sports superstars to help them sell their products have already
started looking at their pitchmen more closely.
Before allegations against Bryant, superstars such as Michael
Jordan and Tiger Woods were part of a "class of people who were so
above the fray" they weren't scrutinized, Carter said.
"What a reality check this has been," Carter said of the
Bryant case. "It's kind of good because everybody is going to be
doing their homework."
At the Colorado Legislature, the tough tactics of Bryant's
defense team led to one of the most obvious legacies of the case so
far: An effort to strengthen Colorado's rape shield law.
State Sen. Dan Grossman said the NBA star's attorneys were able
to put the alleged victim on trial because of a loophole in the law
that allows an alleged victim's sexual history to be discussed at
preliminary hearings.
During one such hearing in the Bryant case, defense attorney
Pamela Mackey stunned observers by suggesting the accuser had sex
with multiple partners in a short amount of time surrounding her
encounter with Bryant. The woman's sexual history was headline
fodder for months before the criminal case was dropped.
"If we learned anything from this case it's that we need to be
vigilant in protecting victims of sexual assault," Grossman said
Wednesday after Bryant and the woman agreed to a confidential
settlement of her civil lawsuit.
A change proposed by Grossman, which has won approval in the
Colorado Senate, would prohibit discussion of an alleged victim's
sexual history during a preliminary hearing unless a judge rules
otherwise. The rule already applies to trial proceedings, with
attorneys required to persuade a judge behind closed doors why the
information is relevant.
Without the change, Grossman said, the Bryant case could become
a "blueprint" for lawyers who want to defend their client by
attacking alleged victims.
Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against
Sexual Assault, said it will take time to know whether the case and
others like it will discourage women from reporting rapes.
"Sexual assault is the lowest reported of any crime," she
said.
In the media, the case prompted examination of long-standing
policies against naming alleged assault victims. The civil case
judge ruled the woman must use her name in court and at least one
large newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, identified her and
published her photograph.
The Associated Press, which generally does not identify alleged
sexual assault victims, did not change its policy for Bryant's
accuser.
Whatever self-examination in the media has happened so far
hasn't been enough, said Geneva Overholser, a professor at the
Missouri School of Journalism, who was frustrated that reporters
weren't able to identify Bryant's accuser.
"What I wish people would hold on to is that the press is not
equipped to determine guilt or innocence, and that when we name one
party and then depict ourselves as protecting the other party, we
seem to be putting ourselves in a position where we are deciding on
guilt," she said.
Overholser worked on a 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper
series in which an Iowa woman who had been raped agreed to make her
identity known. She said in highly publicized cases, media
decisions not to name the accuser provide only scant protection
anyway.
In Bryant's case, his accuser's name and photos were splashed
across covers of supermarket tabloids, while several Web sites --
including the state courts site, through accidental postings or
e-mails -- published her name and other details.
"The mainstream press are not the gatekeepers that they once
were," Overholser said.