Though there have been sexual abuse allegations against Bill Cosby for over a decade, women have started coming forward in increasing numbers with accusations against him ever since comedian Hannibal Buress called Cosby out as a rapist in his stand-up act last fall.
No matter how many women came forward, however, there was always a segment of the public who refused to believe them. Who said they were lying. That they wanted money, or attention, or to ruin the reputation of a powerful black man in America. That if Cosby had raped these women they should have come forward at the time, rather than decades later. Comedian Amy Schumer sums up the arguments of those defending Cosby pretty brilliantly in this video.
Those who take this point of view are choosing to ignore the fact that women who accuse powerful men of rape are more likely to have their own reputations ruined in the process, because as we can plainly see, the public does not want to believe them. This way of thinking puts the blame on the woman who has been assaulted, forcing her to prove the allegations rather than forcing the man to disprove them. It ignores the trauma and fear which are by-products of rape, and the criminal justice system which rarely prosecutes rapists or even processes the rape kits of women who do take action against their attackers immediately. It ignores the fact that only one third of rapes are ever reported to begin with. If over forty women have come forward against Cosby, it's possible the true number of victims could reach triple digits.
In Vanity Fair, model Beverly Johnson described the internal struggle she faced when deciding whether or not to speak publically about her own experience being drugged by Cosby. Ultimately, she said, “Barbara Bowman came out to tell the horrific details of being drugged and raped by Cosby to the Washington Post in November. And I watched in horror as my longtime friend and fellow model Janice Dickinson was raked over the coals for telling her account of rapeat Cosby’s hands. Over the years I’ve met other women who also claim to have been violated by Cosby. Many are still afraid to speak up. I couldn’t sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true.” It seems that one woman having the strength to come forward led to other women choosing to be honest and stand together in solidarity, to corroborate each other's story and perhaps gain justice or at least some form of peace together.
Earlier this week a judge released a sealed deposition from 2005 to the AP. In the deposition, Cosby admits to getting several prescriptions for Quaaludes with the intention of giving them to women with whom he wanted to have sex. Many thought this would be the end of the controversy, and that hearing the truth from Cosby's own mouth would stop Cosby's defenders in their tracks. Sadly, it appears America's ability to live in denial about the past is stronger than any amount of facts to the contrary.
Some Cosby defenders have admitted they were wrong in light of this new information. Others, like Whoopi Goldberg and even Cosby's own wife (slash business manager) are still attempting to defend his reputation, alleging that any women given drugs by Cosby took them consensually. It might be possible that Cosby gave some women (or even friends) drugs to take consensually back in the day, and maybe even with the intent to make that kind of argument possible. But even if a woman took a drug consensually and then later Cosby had sex with her, that is still some shady territory to defend. And that kind of argument is still putting all the onus on women to prevent rape, and none of it on men. It's not that different from slut-shaming a woman who gets raped while black-out drunk. We always want to say that women should change their behavior and never that men should control their libidos around altered women. Give a sexy woman a quaalude if she wants one. Then, then the next day, when she's sober, see if she is interested in sex. Why is that a novel idea?
These allegations against Cosby highlight yet again that we do not believe victims of rape in our culture. The Mary Sue makes a great comparison between rape and robbery. If someone's house is robbed, our first question isn't whether they remembered to lock the front door. But our culture always wants to find some behavior in women that justifies the violence against them: she was a slut, look what she was wearing, she shouldn't have had so much to drink, she shouldn't have taken drugs, she shouldn't have been alone in a strange place, etc. The fact that anyone is holding out for more “proof” of what Cosby did is sickening. What do Cosby's defenders "need" at this point to believe the accusations? A video?
We live in a country where 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted and where 98% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. When celebrities or even just our friends and neighbors defend Cosby, it sends a message to those women. A message that they should stay quiet. A message that no one will believe their stories. Refusing to believe rape victims further solidifies rape culture in our society. It teaches women silence and it teaches men just how much they can get away with. When we don't believe these women, we are telling them that our opinion of Bill Cosby is more important than their lives, their safety, and their well-being. And we are teaching men that women aren't worthy of gaining consent from in the first place.
If you still feel like you need further “proof” that Cosby is a rapist, ask yourself why. As yourself why the testimonies of 40+ women and what is basically an admission from the man himself do not count as “proof.” Then think about what you would want to count as “proof” if you were raped.
This article was originally published by The Horn on 07/15/2015.