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Woman's testimony on tap; advocates fear fallout

DENVER -- The woman accusing NBA star Kobe Bryant of rape
will be forced to testify Wednesday about her sex life -- a move
some experts fear could discourage other women from reporting
sexual assaults.

The 19-year-old woman will testify behind closed doors, but
dozens of reporters will be at the courthouse to report that she
had to answer questions from defense attorneys about intimate
details of her life.

"I'm frightened about this decision, only for the fact that
families will not support victims and survivors to go report
because they can now say, 'Look what happened to so-and-so,' " said
Jeri Elster of Los Angeles, who was raped in 1992 and has lobbied
for changes in the law. "It feels like a huge setback for
survivors and victims to come."

The hearing will be held to determine whether details of the
woman's sex life can be introduced at Bryant's trial. The defense
says the information should be admitted because it could show that
the woman's injuries were caused by another sexual partner and that
she had a "scheme" to sleep with Bryant, possibly to gain the
attention of an ex-boyfriend.

The prosecution fought to limit defense questioning, but was
rebuffed by the Colorado Supreme Court. The hearing will be the
first time the woman has faced Bryant since their encounter last
summer.

The Los Angeles Lakers guard has said he had consensual sex with
the woman at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted,
he could get four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on
probation. No trial date has been set.

Colorado's rape-shield law, like others around the country,
generally bars defense attorneys from bringing up information about
an alleged victim's sex life. The idea is to prevent the defense from
depicting the alleged victim as a woman of loose morals. Judges,
however, can hear such testimony in private to determine whether
the information is relevant and admissible as evidence.

Experts said it is not unusual in Colorado for an alleged victim
to testify in such pretrial hearings. But none has attracted such
widespread publicity.

The woman's name and photos of her are splashed almost weekly on
the covers of supermarket tabloids and can easily be found online.
Court filings are posted on the Internet for anyone to see.

"This is the most harmful misuse of the rape-shield law I have
ever seen," Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor who teaches at the
New England School of Law, she said of the Bryant case. "Without
it, the defense would have nothing to point to to drag her into
court."

She said she believes many women are watching to see how
Bryant's accuser handles what could be hours of grueling testimony.
"If she makes it, then I think a lot more women will come forward
and be able to handle what comes out" in court, Murphy said.

Some experts said there is good reason for the alleged victim to
testify.

"Who knows the facts better as far as her history than her?"
asked Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and visiting professor
at the University of Denver School of Law. "I'm not sure I would
want the judge to decide based on what other people say happened."

Steinhauser said publicity could actually increase assault
reports by prompting discussions about acquaintance rape that could
help remove the stigma.

"I hope people see this as a system that, yes, is difficult on
victims, but if it happened the way she says it happened, it's
wrong, it's a crime and people need to be held accountable for
that," Steinhauser said.

Nationally, 84 percent of sexual assault victims do not go to
police, most out of fear people will learn about the assault or
that they will be blamed for the attack, according to a 1992 study
by the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the
Medical University of South Carolina.

Center psychologist Connie Best said there are no reliable
statistics to determine how a highly publicized rape case affects
victim reporting rates. But she said anecdotal evidence and her own
experience suggest that intense publicity discourages many victims
from coming forward.

"If it's germane to the case, it should be brought out. That's
due process and there's no problem with that from advocates in the
field," Best said. "It's having other kinds of information made
available" that creates a problem.

Prosecutor Mark Hurlbert has said in court filings the defense
wants information about the woman's sexual activities from summer
2002 to August 2003, a range he said was too broad. The judge can
halt questions he believes are unfair or irrelevant and prosecutors
can object.

The hearing about the woman's sexual activities is scheduled to
end Wednesday. Another closed-door hearing resumes Thursday on a
request by Bryant's lawyers to throw out evidence including the NBA
star's recorded statements to investigators and a T-shirt stained
with the accuser's blood.