This Could Happen to You


On April 3, 2013, Brian Banks signed with the Atlanta Falcons and is now a part of their 90 man roster.  Right now you may be asking yourself, why do I care, and how could I make this happen to me?

But there’s a lot more to this story.  in 2002, Brian Banks was a 16 year old student at Long Beach Poly high school, a well known powerhouse of high school football in Southern California.  He was an outstanding linebacker, and he had drawn the attention of USC coach Pete Carroll.

Brian had his whole life ahead of him.  Even if he didn’t end up in the NFL, it seemed likely he would get a football scholarship at a great school, preparing him for a future as a productive member of society.  But if that’s what happened, I wouldn’t be writing about his story.

One summer day in 2002, Brian and a girl named Wanetta Gibson made out in a stair well on campus.  They didn’t have sex, and according to Brian, everything seemed fine.  Later that afternoon, Brian was arrested for raping her.  The rape kit came back negative, because they hadn’t had sex, but that didn’t seem to matter.  Brian’s public defender said that his size, age and race would mean a sure conviction of 40+ years, regardless of his guilt, and so she convinced him to plea bargain for a six year sentence on a reduced charge.

At this point, Brian’s life was ruined.  He served five years in California State Prison, and when he was released he had to register as a sex offender.  That meant he couldn’t even attend events like his little cousin’s birthday party, because as a registered sex offender he wasn’t allowed around children.  He was also required to wear a GPS tracking ankle bracelet at all times.

Then, in 2011, after suffering the indignity and humiliation that comes with being convicted of a crime he didn’t commit for almost a decade, Brian received a Facebook friend request that would change his life.  Wanetta Gibson, the alleged victim of his sexual assault wanted to reconnect with him.  She wanted to let bygones be bygones.  She wasn’t offering help, or to recant her completely made-up accusation, she just wanted to “hang out.”

Brian was understandably stunned at this turn of events.  Without accepting her friend request, Brian messaged her that they could hang out if she was willing to help him prove his innocence.  Knowing that this was an opportunity he could not pass up, Brian secretly recorded two meetings with Gibson, where she admitted that Brian didn’t rape her, and also that she made up the whole story, but was afraid of helping him because she couldn’t afford to pay back the million dollar settlement she won in her civil suit following Brian’s conviction.  Using this evidence, Brian was able to clear his name once and for all, and he said cutting off the ankle bracelet was the first moment he felt free in almost a decade.

The Brian Banks story should be a warning to every one of us.  This innocent man’s life was totally destroyed through no fault of his own, and the only reason we even know that is because his accuser was so divorced from reality she though he would be willing to let bygones be bygones, like nothing happened.  What I hope we can all take away from this story is that rape is a terrible, terrible crime, which should never happen to any woman.  The feelings of violation and shame are hard for a man to comprehend, but when someone like Wanetta furiously dream up a rape allegation, it harms actual victims of sexual assault, and trivializes their pain.  I don’t know what can be done to ameliorate this problem, but I know we have to do something before another innocent person is railroaded by a system that neither cares for the truth or the plight of the falsely accused.