Since new allegations against Bill Cosby first broke last month I thought about writing something about it. But I didn’t. I kept coming back to it week after week, because I wanted to say something, but also felt overwhelmed by the whole thing. If I did write something, what would I write? Would I just give my opinion on the whole thing? Would I be more of a journalist and sum everything up, lay out the facts and then give a little commentary? Would I focus on the man or on the many women pointing fingers in his direction? And then, perhaps just to give myself an easy out, I decided it was too late to write about it. That ship had sailed.
But it never really did. I think that I keep coming back to it, because of other people’s reactions to it. Because the more I read, the more I am shocked and upset, and a lot of those feelings are directed at the reactions or comments of other people who have nothing to do with the actual case or allegations.
Let me get this out of the way, this (post) is not about whether Bill Cosby is guilty or not. Personally, I think that he is, if not in all of the cases, at least some of them. But I’m not going to talk about the facts, and I’m not going to make my case for his guilt. There are plenty of news stories and other blogs out there that do just that. Instead, I want to talk about rape and sexual abuse, and what it means to come forward. How hard that is. And why some of the comments from people reinforce just how much people have to lose when they come forward.
As a person who has worked with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and a fellow survivor, let me say one thing right now: coming forward is fucking hard. When a person comes forward and reports that he/she was raped, sexually abused or physically assaulted it is beyond terrifying. Why do you think that domestic violence and sexual assault are so under-reported? Are there ever instances where someone reports a false rape? Of course. How many times does such a thing take place though? And how many times does a rape occur that is never reported at all? Which number do you think is higher?
When a person comes forward, they are owning a trauma that happened to them. And it isn’t just something that happened to them – it is something that becomes a part of them. Being violated in a way that will affect them for the rest of their lives… it’s not like being pushed down on the playground or mugged or having your car broken into. These things matter, but they don’t strip away a person’s complete sense of worth and safety and self esteem. I am not trying to speak for every survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault – that would be incredibly arrogant. But I am speaking for myself, and all of the people I have helped when my job was facing this every day, trying to help someone else.
Think back to a time when you were a victim of a crime such as your house being robbed. If you have had this happen take everything you felt as soon as you discovered you had been robbed and amplify it by one hundred. Maybe it took you awhile before you felt safe in that house again. You probably changed the locks, got a security system – you did things to feel in control and get your power back. But when it’s your body you can’t change the locks or get a security system. And you can’t stay somewhere else until you’re ready to face what happened. You’re stuck. And you’re trying to regain control when your own skin no longer feels like it belongs to you.
Many people think that there are false rape reports all the time. Or that it is a common revenge tactic that a scorned woman uses. But when our society is deep into its own rape-culture, the victim is usually judged much more harshly than the offender. What did he/she do to lead the offender on? What were they wearing? What did they say? And the victim is judged by many. This isn’t just some internalized thing that a victim believes to reinforce not coming forward – this is what actually happens (and as a victim advocate, working with law enforcement and the court system, I know that it really does – and it sucks).
I look at Cosby’s accusers and I don’t see scorned women. I don’t see women looking to cash in. I don’t see any of the things that naysayers are claiming. I see women saying, “This was my experience.” And that has to be terrifying and at the same time freeing, and hopefully it is inevitably healing. From a logical standpoint, I don’t see what Cosby’s supporters are saying. What could these women possibly have to gain? For women who already have careers (Michelle Hurd and Beverly Johnson for example) this does not help them or further their careers in any way. If anything, I would see it as damaging their careers more than it would have a positive impact. And the women who are not in show business – no woman wants a claim to fame through being raped. Because they don’t become a celebrity, and people don’t see them – they only see what happened to them. And the whole money angle – how much can these women hope to get now that they’ve come forward? There is a lot more money in handling it with Cosby’s associates and representatives privately, threatening to come forward unless they get paid. Again, this counter-argument is illogical.
And let’s not forget how many women have come forward. Whenever I am in a situation where it seems to be me against the world, I have to take a hard look at my perception. Is it me? Because if there are ten people, and nine see something one way and you see something the other, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong and they’re right, but you have to pause and really be open to look at yourself and your perception. This goes for anyone. I find the number of women alarming as well as other things that have come to light since the first accusations broke last year.
Some people in “the business” have mentioned that they hope the allegations are not true, or cannot believe that they are because they know the man, but if abusers and rapists were so obviously evil – would people get assaulted or raped as often? Anyone can be an offender, just as anyone can become a victim. Perhaps that is what is so terrifying. And then there is the mention of Cosby’s legacy and how this is destroying something that was so positive and brought about so many different and new viewpoints, as well as broke traditional racial stereotypes. But my only response to this is, “Why?”
I mean I’m not stupid. Perhaps this colors something wonderful in a slightly darker hue, but it doesn’t have to destroy anything. Bill Cosby is a man. The Cosby Show was not a one-man show. I have many friends of color and many of them talk about what a big deal this show was. They got to watch people like them on TV, a real family that wasn’t defined by negative racial stereotypes. It told them they could grow up to be whatever they wanted to be. And that is wonderful. And that is a legacy of a show that was on the air for eight years. It is terrible and sad that a person who played the patriarch in that show has behaved in this way. But don’t put the destruction of a legacy on the victims who are coming forward. The legacy can still stand strong: beating back those negative stereotypes while the positive messages of the show can still remain just as empowering as they were before. My argument is that Bill Cosby is just a man, and he can be separated from the legacy that many (and not wrongly so) are so quick to want to protect.
I haven’t thought much of Cosby and the allegations against him until two weeks ago when news broke that Cosby made a joke at a show in Ontario (see article below) about how women need to be careful drinking around him. This made me physically ill. This doesn’t say “innocent” or “secure” to me – just insensitive and making light of something that is not light, and can never be light. If he was innocent in regards to absolutely every allegation, he still should not have said this. It’s like he is saying women being raped is funny, and that’s a kind of humor I’ll never be on board with. An innocent man or a man who respected women in the slightest would never have said such a thing. This is obvious deflection, and ineffective at that.
And now he is in Denver, which is where I live (close to). So I thought, all right, this can be relevant again. This can be timely. I can say something about the whole Cosby thing and it isn’t late or finished or done. But now that I have said what I have had to say, I realize I didn’t need him to be close by or need an excuse to write about any of this. Because until society breaks out of its current rape culture, until we stop blaming the victims, and until laws (such as statues of limitations) change, it will still be relevant. It isn’t finished. And for each of these women, and every other victim or survivor of sexual assault, rape and sexual violence – it never will be.
What do you have to say about that, Bill?