I have known and worked with victims whose future was just as bright. They may not have had their accomplishments and future ambitions continually made public in the media, but nonetheless, the damage inflicted will take a lifetime of repair.
The problem is, no one gets to know them, really. Not unless they come forward with their name and make people know them. They are for all intents and purposes, the woman (or man) behind the curtain. They call the shots, have a spokesperson, tell their story, but largely, they are unknown. We can't relate to the victim like we can relate to the perpetrator whom we've watched grow up collectively.
So, the perpetrator ends up being the target of our sympathy - and empathy. "What if I get accused? What if I am targeted for something like this? What would I do if I were in the situation of this person? What if it were my son? What would I do if my child were accused?" That's where we go when we see the reports. The perpetrator was likable before the incident and now he is explaining to us the "miscommunication" or the "mistake" or "poor judgment." Well, we all can relate to lapses in that!
But what about the victim? What happens to him or her? What about the parents and their struggle with getting news they've feared since hearing "its a boy/girl?" We don't think about that as much because the victim cannot be accessed. And many times, a simple confidentiality agreement or "gag order" makes that voice go away.
But we know the most important way to prevent violence is to have those empathize with the victim and with the damage that a "lapse in judgment" creates. When it comes to athletes especially, there are very few, almost none, who are made available to them - except for those they know well - who are in their inner circle. And many times, speaking from experience, the ones closest to them also shield them from the pain and emotion of the event and the symptoms that follow.
Think about the powerful story that Kobe Bryant's victim could tell if she were able. She could explain her mindset, her story, the trauma that occurred after and walk people through each difficult step. Most people would probably identify with her more than with a powerful, wealthy celebrity athlete who is known throughout the world. But her story can't be told from her perspective - or from anyone's.
Half the battle in the effort to prevent violence against women is to make the world of the victim and perpetrator collide. To bring never thought about consequences to those 10 minutes in that one night. To walk someone through how a simple exchange or meeting can spin out of control and evolve into a legal case for public consumption or a lifetime of trauma counseling. And half of that battle requires the victim standing in front of athletes to allow them to ask the questions they need to ask, to make the judgments they need to make, to be able to recognize situations and emotions and thought processes and yes, feelings. Once they have investigated and inquired, we want them to ask, "What needed to happen to make this a respectful interaction?" They may ask that at that moment, but when a situation arises, it will replay in their mind.