Column

Why Do Men’s Legacies Matter More Than Women’s Safety?

When a Washington Post reporter was harassed after tweeting a link to the rape accusations against Kobe Bryant, the paper didn’t protect her—it punished her

Jessica Valenti
GEN
Published in
4 min readJan 27, 2020

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Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

AAlmost immediately after Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted out a link to an article about the 2003 rape accusation against Kobe Bryant, who died on Sunday alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others, the harassment began. Sonmez was harangued and threatened, her address posted publicly. In fear for her safety, she checked into a hotel.

On Monday, the Washington Post put Sonmez on administrative leave, noting in a statement that the paper was reviewing whether her tweets violated their social media policy, and saying that she “displayed poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.”

Her tweet, which was presented without comment, linked to a Daily Beast article from 2016 headlined, “Kobe Bryant’s Disturbing Rape Case.” She also tweeted about the thousands of people who responded with abuse and threats, and noted that it “speaks volumes about the pressure people come under to stay silent in these cases.”

We can argue about when it’s appropriate to speak negatively about someone who has died tragically, and whether a person should be remembered by their worst moment. What is inarguable, however, is that a woman was punished — both personally and professionally — simply for drawing attention to a well-known allegation that reflected poorly on a beloved male celebrity.

It’s an outrageous reminder that institutions will protect powerful men’s reputations above all else — even a woman’s safety.

Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple writes that management asked Sonmez to take her tweets down, but that she was delayed because of the barrage of threats. Once the tweets were deleted and Sonmez had checked into a hotel, she found out she was being placed on leave; managing editor Tracy Grant told her in an email that her “behavior on social media is making it harder for others to do their work as Washington Post journalists.”

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Jessica Valenti
GEN
Writer for

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.