Bryant case may have stifled reported rapes |

Bryant case may have stifled reported rapes

J.K. PERRYeagle county correspondent
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, and his defense attorney Pamela Mackey, center, smile as they exit the Eagle County Justice Center to a group of screaming young Bryant fans, Tuesday March 2, 2004, in Eagle, Colo. Bryant spent Monday and Tuesday in pretrial hearing regarding the sexual assault charges filed against him. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

New statistics show the number of reported rape cases are going back upEAGLE COUNTY – Bev Christiansan recalls four rape victims who failed to report the crimes committed against them because of the way the woman involved in the Kobe Bryant sexual-assault case was treated.One in particular thought her family might be threatened in some way, similar to the woman in the Bryant case, said Christiansan, director of the Resource Center, an Eagle County group that serves victims of domestic violence and sex assaults.The unusual high-profile rape case hurt the Resource Center’s cause.

“It set our work back pretty drastically at the beginning, but I’m more hopeful,” Christiansan said.Following the 2003-2004 Kobe Bryant case in which the basketball star faced allegations of sexually assaulting an Eagle woman, the number of reported rape cases in Eagle County dropped, several sources said.”While I certainly want victims of any crime to report, I think the whole world saw a sexual-assault victim being dragged through the mud,” said Deena Ezzell, victim services coordinator for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. “So it makes perfect sense to me why another victim would be afraid to report for fear of the same thing happening to them,””It is not uncommon for sex-assault victims to be scared their friends, family and that the community won’t believe them.”

Ezzell conservatively estimates that nationally, less than 25 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported.”Some of the reasons are for fear the victim won’t be believed, their family’s reaction and even what will happen to the perpetrator, because in most cases the perpetrator is someone they know. They might not necessarily want them to go to jail,” Ezzell said.In this case, the victim faced scrutiny of her personal life in the media, a generally rare occurrence, said Mark Hurlbert, Eagle County District Attorney and lead prosecutor in the case.”That does not happen in 99.9 percent of the cases,” Hurlbert said. “What we’re talking about is an extremely unusual case with a high-profile defendant with money and a lot of access to the media and the ability to create this backlash against the victim.”

The district attorney’s office prosecuted 11 rape cases in 2003, five in 2004 and 10 in 2005. The numbers show reported rape cases returning to an average level.”My feeling is the effect has faded some” over time, Ezzell said.Victims reporting rape to police is advantageous, so in turn Hurlbert can prosecute and send a message to would-be offenders.”The only way we can stop sexual assaults and hold (perpetrators) accountable is to report this to police,” Hurlbert said. “With more prosecutions, they’re less likely to commit. We’re taking a very hard line with sex assaults, and we hope we make a dent in it.”

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