Evan Abenstein: Celebrity Cases Can Discourage Ordinary Victims from Reporting

When ordinary victims of sexual assault see how the media treats people who accuse celebrities of sexual assault, they are discouraged of reporting it on their own.  Celebrities are getting away with sexual assault because victims are afraid to report it. There is fear that due to a celebrity’s star persona, they will be treated differently.  Examples of this are far and wide, but the most recent examples come from high profile names like NBA All-star Derrick Rose and President-elect Donald Trump.  Rose’s accuser waited about two years to report the case to the courts and begged that her name not be released.  Likewise, Trump’s victims did not come out until 2016, when a recording of Trump talking about sexually assaulting women surfaced.  However, both cases are vastly different.  Rose stated that he did not know what consent means, while Trump’s power and influence aided him to commit sexual assault without thinking twice.  People are scared to report sexual assault against celebrities because even though the victim’s name will not be publicly reported, an accusation against celebrities draws national attention. There is concern that the public will have bias in favor of the accused celebrity because they are a fan of their public persona. This is important because there are many celebrities that do not face consequences due to the fact that they are looked up to and loved.

During sexual assault court cases, most victims hide their identities through the name of Jane Doe. The right that allows them to do this is protected by law which “requires that your name should automatically be blacked-out (“redacted”) in all public police records and court documents”.  However, the judge must agree to have the victim’s name kept from the the public when it concerns court documents. Without this law, victims accusing high-profile figures would be discouraged to report sexual assault because their names would be reported
to the public. This could lead to people calling them liars and money-seekers because of their unwavering support for their celebrity icon.  

Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, recently went on trial to defend himself in a sexual assault case against a former girlfriend.  After the trial had ended, Rose was found not guilty, and the jury members and judge lined up to take pictures with Rose. Rose’s celebrity status could have shifted some of the jury members’ views and verdict because they are fans.  In what could have been viewed as bias for Rose during the case, Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald proclaimed to Rose at the end of the trial, “Best wishes, except when the Knicks play the Lakers.”  This could have be seen as a humorous line but it is also an indicator of a possible inherent preference for celebrities. This type of commentary is expected much less for common trials. Seeing the pictures of the judge and jurors posing with Rose after the trial will further discourage those that want to report sexual assault. Treatment such as this along with the media publishing celebrities getting off without consequence may be a plausible reason as to why victims choose to stay silent.

During the U.S. 2016 election, Donald Trump, now president-elect , was accused of sexual assault. Recently, an audio recording from 2005 captures him claiming that he could,“grab women by the pussy.”  This type of language regarding the treatment of women is unacceptable for a future president but Trump’s celebrity status influenced citizens to overlook the accusations of sexual assault brought against him.

Summer Zervos, one of the victims of Trump’s alleged sexual assaults, was a contestant on Trump’s show, The Apprentice. She quickly came out and told the press, “He tried to kiss me again and with my hand still on his chest I said ‘Dude, you’re trippin’ right now,’ attempting to make it clear that I was not interested.” Despite other victims publicly accusing Trump, official charges have not been pressed. The reluctance to charge Trump with criminal wrongdoing has set a precedent that celebrity status can be a means of avoiding responsibility.

According to CNN, Trump is quoted saying, “All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.,” referring to his accusers. Due to being in the spotlight, celebrities obtain an invincible persona that makes them think they are untouchable.  

In both cases, Rose and Trump’s celebrity statuses contributed to the public’s biased point of view in favor of them in regards to sexual assault accusations. The impact of these cases will affect both the victims and accused perpetrators. Victims may also be hesitant to publicly accuse celebrities because media may portray them as only after a profit. Rose’s accuser was seeking 21.5 million in compensation, which may seem like a lofty price, but it may also be accurate for the distress the trail and incident caused. Compensation of this proportion might have some claiming the victim is after money, and the alleged incident never occurred, portraying the victim as money-hungry or a liar. With labels and judgement such as these being placed on the victim, it can be discouraging for future victims to want to come forward if they know they will be subject to ridicule.

These are high-profile cases for a reason, and they create tension that is intensified through overwhelming public support for the public figure being accused.  When women who accuse celebrities of sexual assault lose or are not taken seriously, it leads ordinary women to lose faith in the justice system. If women raped by celebrities stop reporting it, then that reduces the media coverage of sexual assault overall, making it easier for non-celebrity assaulters to get away with it.