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Kobe Bryant
Koby and Vanessa Bryant. Courtesy of USATSI
Kobe Bryant
Koby and Vanessa Bryant. Courtesy of USATSI

On February 27, Vanessa Bryant shared on her Instagram that she only recently came across Evan Rachel Wood’s tweet that the actress wrote on the day that Bryant’s late husband, Kobe Bryant, was killed in a tragic helicopter accident along with his 13-year-old daughter Giana and seven other victims.

Wood’s tweet read, “What has happened is tragic. I am heartbroken for Kobe’s family. He was a sports hero. He was also a rapist. And all of these truths can exist simultaneously.”

Following the backlash the Hollywood actress received to this tweet, she wrote, “this was not a condemnation or a celebration. It was a reminder that everyone will have different feelings, and there is room for us all to grieve together instead of fighting. Everyone has lost. Everyone will be triggered, so please show kindness and respect to all.” Evans has since then deleted both tweets. 

Bryant shared her frustration with Wood in an Instagram story and wrote, “Your false, insensitive, defamatory and slanderous tweet on 1/26/20 is vile and disturbing to say the least”. She continued by arguing that Wood’s “behavior” contributes to the criminalization of “innocent Black men.” “An accusation doesn’t make someone guilty. You don’t know the facts of the case,” Bryant concluded. 

Wood is a survivor of sexual assault and rape herself. She has been advocating for increased accountability for perpetrators since 2018 and recently identified Marilyn Manson as her abuser to the public for the first time. 

Bryant’s response and the general backlash that Wood has received for her statement bring forth a bigger issue of reconciling the complexities of someone’s life and career, especially if that someone happens to be a beloved icon and especially if they tragically passed away. 

Bryant is justified in her grief, which may cause her to engage in active protection of her late husband’s reputation and the father of her children. However, how far does the authority of this grief stretch in the court of public opinion? 

While Bryant’s positionality and the pain of her loss should not be diminished, the facts remain. Kobe Bryant was a great athlete with an incredible career. He was also accused of raping a 19-year-old woman in his hotel room in 2003. He was never acquitted of the crime. The victim decided to not go to trial following the media coverage of the case. 

There are many intricacies worth discussing in each individual case. The Kobe Bryant case represents the significance of racial identities and that of class and celebrity status in the matter of sexual assault. Nonetheless, false rape reports have been proven to be statistically rare and a product of inconsistent bureaucracy rather than malicious intent. Women who do end up reporting their abuse usually have more to lose than to gain from it. 

In 2008, a study was published that used Kobe Bryant’s case as an empirical illustration of how media coverage contributes to the perpetuation of rape myths and distrust toward survivors. The key finding was that articles that stigmatize the victim and trivialize and question the nature of the sexual assault cause their readers to express distrust toward the victim’s claim. It is one of many pieces of evidence that suggest that the way we talk about sexual assault matters and that excusing behavior of powerful and publicly beloved men has larger long-term implications for all survivors who come forward with their story. 

As we as a society continue on the path of dismantling harmful rape myths and stereotypes about survivors, we should be ready to truly include all women in our “Believe Women” Instagram captions and bumper stickers. Even the women who accuse our favorite players/singers/actors of violence. Even if the described violence does not seem violent to some. And even after the accused’s untimely death. 

We should not shy away from ugly and violent parts of someone’s life story but be able to reckon with them even in grief. Kobe Bryant’s death was a tragic accident that should have been avoided, and that was mourned by thousands of people across the globe. It reminds us that the life of any person is valuable, no matter their achievements and mistakes. Utilizing the same logic, the lives of women who fell victims to sexual assault should also be extended empathy and solidarity, even and especially if the perpetrator happens to be a famous and powerful public figure. 

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