Reflecting on the Kobe Bryant Rape Accusations 14+ Years Later

“WHY would he rape her when he could get laid anytime he wants??”

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this in the aftermath of the Kobe Bryant rape accusation in early July of 2003. Usually it was from people who looked and acted like I did: young white men who were crazy about sports, but lacked a certain sensitivity and maturity.

Usually. However, I also heard the same exact question from women and people of color and older folks. In one instance it came from an older woman of color whom I befriended during some time I spent in Belize (where I was when the news broke). We were on a tropical beach that felt three million miles from LA, but she had a TV in her living room with a US-based cable package and strong opinions about Kobe Bryant and his innocence.

Still, for the most part, the unmistakable sentiment in the air that gave Kobe the benefit of the doubt because he “didn’t need to rape anyone” came from men. A lot changed in the 14 years following Kobe’s alleged attack and perhaps even more has changed – at least when it comes to these issues – in the last three months or so.

Let us never again utter the words “but he could have had anyone…why would he rape/harass/assault HER?” Kobe was just one example, but this lame line of thinking is generally trotted out there whenever a powerful male celebrity is accused of forcing himself on a “civilian.” At least until recently.

If the recent wave of allegations – headlined by über-producer and über-creep Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and most recently, television host and interviewer Charlie Rose – have shown us anything, it is that powerful men often embarrass/harass/assault those working below them because it satisfies their ego and it makes them feel powerful to have that kind of visceral dominance over another human being.

Why else would Harvey Weinstein subject terrified young women to his naked backside and ask for a massage, when all of us who study celebrity culture know he could have had someone just as physically beautiful there in ten minutes, ready and willing to participate? The only sensible answer seems to be that he got off on MAKING them do it (and humiliating them in the process). The same thing is true, to different degrees, with Charlie Rose and more men than we can count here.

They either get off on the power dynamic like Harvey Weinstein, or seem to have a need to be sexually desired by every woman they come across (especially at the office) like Charlie Rose, or some combination of the two. Either way, these cases (OBVIOUSLY, as others have pointed out more eloquently than I) go well beyond a creepy old boss copping a feel and then masturbating to it later because he can’t “get any” at home (not that that is all right AT ALL).

I don’t know exactly what happened in Kobe Bryant’s room at The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera on July 1, 2003, but there are some facts about what happened. At best, he was committing adultery in a fairly aggressive manner. And even if all sexual acts committed that day were consensual and legal, there is still a creepy element to reckon with, that being the fact that the accuser was on-duty at the hotel.

Kobe was a guest at the hotel and her job as a concierge was literally to meet his (appropriate) needs, a job that was surely taken seriously at a five-star palace like the Cordillera (it was recently closed for good, but the effusive reviews and impressively luxurious photos still live online).

She was essentially working for him: in the moments leading up to the alleged assault (and admitted sexual act) the 19-year old gave Kobe a tour of the hotel. He then asked her to come in and started kissing her, which she was reportedly okay with. When he started touching her, she says she tried to get away, but that he grabbed her by the neck, eventually bending her over a chair and penetrating her from behind. Kobe admitted to the sex, but denied (at least publicly) that it was anything but consensual.

Which brings us back to the power dynamic between these larger-than-life celebrity men and the women they target. Despite the access to easy sex that comes along with being a massive celebrity, Kobe clearly chose to go after a young, inexperienced woman, who was probably operating on orders from her boss to keep him happy, to pursue.

Whether or not he forced her into the act is a question that remains unanswered – although the numbers on “false” rape allegations are about the same as any other crime, i.e. low, like 8% – but either way, the specter of Kobe using his power to persuade or force a young, nervous girl to have sex with him is more than a little nauseating, especially considering all we’ve learned in the past few months (and by we, I mean mostly oblivious men – women already knew about this, sadly often from personal experience).

Whatever the facts are about what went on between Kobe Bryant and his accuser, I will never think about the case the same way again after seeing example after example after example of powerful men, with any sexual desire they want fulfilled just a phone call away, repeatedly harass, embarrass, mortify, and assault younger, vulnerable women because they get off on the power.

One thing you can bet the house on is that we as a society will make mistakes going forward as we continue to process and react to the long overdue revelations of the predators among us, but let us never again use the phrase “but he doesn’t need to harass/assault/rape anyone” to defend an accused man. Need has nothing to do with it. Women have known that forever, and it’s about time men do too.

Note: This piece is an expanded version of a stand-alone post on the author’s personal Facebook page. 

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