That’s exactly what happened to Brian Banks, a former high school football star, who went to prison for rape after his fellow classmate, Wanetta Gibson, falsely accused him. The then-16-year-old athlete, who planned to attend college on a football scholarship at USC and aspired to enter the NFL, made out with Gibson in an area on school grounds. Later that day, although the two never had sex, Banks was arrested for rape.
Risking a sentence of 41 years to life if found guilty, Banks’ attorney encouraged him to take the plea deal, telling him that ‘[he] was a big black teenager and no jury would believe anything he said.’ Banks was ultimately released from prison after five years, but remained on parole for another five. His status as a registered sex offender prevented him from finding employment and taking the necessary steps to truly get his life back.
Then one day, he got the Facebook notification of his life: a friend request from his former accuser. (“Oh so you just gon’ accuse me of raping you, destroy my whole life over a lie, and then friend me on Facebook? Really though”) Banks was classy enough to send Gibson a message asking why she friended him. (Since he didn’t hit the “ignore” button, I secretly hope it also said, “[Expletive,] what the [expletive], but, if it did, this story might have had a different ending, so…)
Gibson replied that she had hoped that they could put the incident behind them now that they were older, and Banks asked if she would help him clear his name. Although initially worried about having to pay back the $1.5 million settlement that she had won from the school district after suing it for its “lack of campus security” (I know, I know, what the ???!!!***@@! Money based on a lie that the state of California, which is slowly going bankrupt, now desperately needs), Gibson agreed and admitted that Banks had never raped her. After working with the California Innocence Project, Banks’ name was ultimately cleared.
Banks’ attorneys have told him that he can sue his false accuser, but at the moment, he is more focused on getting his life back together and making his NFL dream a reality. All I can say is wow. I don’t think I have enough Jesus in me yet to do something like that, but boy, do I respect him.
Allow me to express the anger, outrage, and indignation that he has probably already spent years working past:
First, the attorney. What in the world did he or she mean “no jury would believe anything [he] had to say.” Yes, we know that race and the criminal justice system don’t usually work well together, but it’s the job of the attorney to at least ATTEMPT to convince the jury of his innocence. Have they never heard of DNA? This was a rape case for goodness sakes. This case is another example of the huge problem that plea bargains have become in the U. S. criminal justice system. They’ve become easy ways for overworked, under-qualified, and just plain disinterested attorneys to finish up their cases. Not to mention that they perpetuate problems of racism and classism in the criminal justice system.
Second, he needs to sue his accuser. It doesn’t have to be out of revenge, but it should at least be out of a need for economic sustainability and restitution for the potential money he’s already lost due to his inability to find employment because he was wrongly labeled as a sex offender. Just in case his NFL dreams don’t come true, he needs to be able to afford to live and he deserves to live comfortably. If she got $1.5 million for a lie (which I hope to the heavens that she has to pay back with interest), then he deserves double that for the truth, plus compensation for emotional distress.
Third, he needs to sue (or at least investigate) his city’s District Attorney’s office (and his former attorney). Did no one inquire about DNA evidence? Is a so-called victim’s testimony really all it takes to send someone to prison?
Fourth, I hope his accuser has sought professional help. I’ll give her credit for doing what she had to do to make amends and for helping to clear his name, but anyone who would falsely accuse someone of something that serious and watch them go to jail has a problem. She was also 15 at the time, so the problems were likely not all her fault and probably had something to do with her home life.
After she gets the professional help that she needs, she needs to be prosecuted. Just because you say I’m sorry, doesn’t mean you’re completely absolved of your wrongdoing. I’m not a lawyer yet, but I know falsely accusing someone has to be illegal. I also know she has to be guilty of some sort of fraud for obtaining that financial settlement.
Unfortunately, these types of incidents continue to make it difficult for actual victims of sexual abuse to be taken seriously. Not only does Gibson owe Banks an eternal apology for her actions, but she also owes one to the millions of people who are actually sexually assaulted and whose accusers are let go because of the results of the perpetuation of negative stereotypes about false accusers like this one.