With Bill Cosby and his alleged dark activities in the news, there are questions I hear very often when the situation is being discussed. Questions that, I think, only someone who has been abused can answer. And so I will, because I think people are generally good, generally willing to accept the truth, and generally appreciative of a different perspective on a matter as complex, confounding and uncomfortable as sexual assault.
But first, some facts, because that is what every debate full of opinion needs.
- Cosby settled with Andrea Constand in a 2006 civil suit for an undisclosed amount. 13 women were listed as Jane Doe witnesses in the case, and during the ensuing media coverage, at least three came forward publicly to share similar stories of being drugged and/or assaulted. While the Philadelphia DA declined to press charges in a criminal case, he had this to say:
“I didn’t say that he didn’t commit the crime. … What I said was there was insufficient, admissible, and reliable evidence upon which to base a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s ‘prosecutors speak’ for ‘I think he did it but there’s just not enough here to prosecute.’”
- Cosby once persuaded National Enquirer to kill an interview with another accuser, fearing her claims would bolster Constand’s suit.
- In total, 21 women (that number is growing everyday) have accused Cosby of assaulting them; 12 of them publicly, 9 anonymously.
(Read for yourself: http://www.vulture.com/2014/09/timeline-of-the-abuse-charges-against-cosby.html , http://www.buzzfeed.com/kateaurthur/18-moments-that-led-to-bill-cosbys-stunning-downfall )
And now to the questions, which I’ve heard from several people, all of whom I respect and care for enormously. Please understand that I am not speaking for these women; I am merely sharing my experience and the experiences of other women from the perspective of having survived sexual abuse and the terrible aftermath that follows.
Why is all this surfacing now?
In January 2014, NBC announced plans for a new Cosby primetime sitcom, putting the star back in headlines. In February, Dylan Farrow published her op-ed in the New York Times about why it is painful for her every time Woody Allen is in the news, possibly motivating Gawker to publish this article about another icon of pop culture who has been plagued by allegations of sexual assault, although the public seems to have forgotten about them. Three days later, Newsweek interviews two women who accused Cosby. In the months that follow, the story pops up here and there on various media outlets, but a biography of Cosby makes no mention of the allegation that span decades.
Oct. 16: Hannibal Buress mentions the Cosby allegations in a standup, and it goes viral, trending on Facebook and Twitter. This was the first time I had ever heard of the accusations. More media interviews with accusers follow. Then a meme generator on Cosby’s site becomes a fiasco, as people use the opportunity to make meme after meme referencing the accusations. This, too, trends worldwide on Facebook and Twitter.
November: More women come forward. NBC cancels the planned series. Netflix decides not to release a Cosby standup special. TV Land pulls The Cosby Show from syndication. Several venues cancel planned Cosby standup events. And the topic keeps trending.
Why did the women take so long to come forward?
This is what happens when a survivor elects to come forward about her abuse: She tells, usually someone close to her. Her family (or whoever) believes her and supports her; she is encouraged to get help. She may go to the authorities, but most likely not. Around 60% of rapes are never reported. (RAINN.org) She spends some time in therapy. She might go to a support group. She gets on with her healing, a process that can take years.
And that’s the best case scenario. Most of the time, what happens is not best case. Many survivors are not believed. Many meet hostility, anger or oppression instead. Because so few people are equipped to deal with a survivor, they are often told to simply move on, forget about it, focus on the positive. Even worse, they face blame. Why you were alone with him? Why did you drink so much? Why didn’t you scream louder, kick harder, or fight at all? Worst of all, they are not believed. They are told that their attacker is a nice guy. He would never do something like that. They must be mistaken.
Place those women in a very public forum with a celebrity as the accused, and the stakes are higher. Death threats, threats of violence, threats of sexual attack and assault, personal information shared online, hackers breaking into personal accounts … These things can and have happened to women who have come forward.
I have not publicly named my attackers. I’m not sure I ever will. Because we have mutual friends. Because he is a nice guy. Because he is in the military, and criticizing our nation’s heroes is tantamount to sedition. And, mostly importantly because I’m not sure I want to believe what happened.
I don’t want those guys to be abusers. I don’t want what happened to me to be abuse. Because then it really is scary, and horrifying, and I’m not sure I can face it.
It took six years for me to tell anyone what happened to me; 13 years since the original incident, and I’ve shared only a fraction of it in therapy. The worst of it, I’ve still never spoken aloud to another living soul.
It takes years, sometimes a lifetime to face what happened to you. Asking these women to share their stories is asking them to relive the very worst moments of their lives. That’s something I’ve not been able to do. At least not yet.
Why are all these women speaking up at once?
You know the one thing that could make me speak up and name my abusers? If somebody else did.
A friend, a co-worker, even a complete stranger; it wouldn’t matter who. Seeing someone else be that brave would not only inspire me, but it would make me feel as if I had a duty to stand alongside them, in solidarity, as they face what would surely be an onslaught of negativity and questioning of their character.
Secondly, if someone else spoke out about my abusers, it would provide something that I have been searching for my whole life, yet haven’t found: Confirmation. I need to know that my instincts are right, my experiences true. If they happened to someone else, as horrible as it is, I feel more validated. I would stop second-guessing myself; my thoughts, feelings, recollections, my memory and intuition. My sense of self. I would know that I was right.
Don’t you think some of these women are lying/jumping on the bandwagon to get attention?
The false accusation rate for rape and sexual assault is 8 percent. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_accusation_of_rape)
If we use the facts we are given, the rate of false accusation among the 21 or so women who have accused Cosby, then 1 of them is lying, statistically. One of them is opening herself up to hatred, public scorn, and threats of violence and death.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one person, one very sick person, looking to capitalize on the biggest news story of the day. But I don’t think that’s the norm.
It is more likely that these women feel as I do, as most survivors do: Emboldened. Compelled. Relieved, even. And finally ready to come forward, their trails blazed for them by another brave soul.
These are the questions that have been asked. Now I have one of my own.
How many women will it take?
How many need to come forward before their combined allegations are taken seriously? How many women spoke up before your opinion shifted? Before public opinion shifted? These allegations are decades old, some of them. Cosby settled with Constand in 2006. 13 women were prepared to testify against him. But be honest: What convinced you more, the shared stories of more than a dozen females, or the statement from the DA about Cosby’s guilt?
Maybe you still don’t believe, not fully. To you, I ask: How many women will it take before you believe? How many women is this one man worth, to you?
I understand the hesitation. It is a hideous thing to be accused of, and particularly painful for his fans.
Cosby the character, the actor, the comedian, was funny and gentle and upstanding. His aura of fatherly wisdom and familial devotion said to us, “Trust me.”
And we did.
To accept that he is the same man who drugged and assaulted even one women, let alone the dozens that have now come forward, is to admit that we were wronged. Not wrong. Wronged.
I wasn’t wrong to think that Cosby was funny; he is. You weren’t wrong to admire the character he presented, that of loving, likeable father. That character was and remains who it was created to be: Kind, caring, relatable. That doesn’t change because the man behind it was a monster. Neither does the monster become less so because the persona he portrayed was someone we looked up to. The two are separate matters. The only thing that changes, given the facts before us, are how we perceive them both, the man and the character.
It feels disgusting to realize that someone we once admired was capable of such atrocities. We feel raw, exposed, ashamed, vulnerable.
I want you to do something Americans are terrible at: Keep feeling those things. Concentrate on them. Really let them sink in.
Now multiply that by 100. 1,000 even. That is how it feels to be a victim of such an assault.
To accept the stories of these women lessens those feelings. And not just slightly; tremendously. Being believed is, for so many women, the first step on the long and painful path to healing. Without it, we cannot even begin.
That is why these national stories, these women who are strangers, are so important to me. To all survivors of abuse. Because their story is our story. Because we watch, obsessively, every case of assault that plays out across the Internet. We follow, in fear, the fate of those courageous enough to step forward, knowing that their treatment at your hands is a looking glass into our future, should we ever choose that path of radical honesty. We measure, constantly, the public mood on rape and all it means for survivors, gauging whether or not it is safe for us to speak up.
As we beg you to believe them, there is a separate and additional plea: Believe me.