Bill Cosby, His Accusers And The Way We Treat Women Who Say They Are Victims Of Sexual Assault
To date, 29 women have come out and accused Bill Cosby of varying levels of sexual assault. Woven throughout their stories are the same claims of drug use and an abuse of both Cosby’s power and celebrity status. The allegations date as far back as 1965 and as recent as 2008. And while there are no criminal investigations going on for any of these claims, a few of his accusers are launching civil lawsuits.
Despite the overwhelming uproar and the many allegations, the embattled comedian has kept very quiet. As his lawyer put it, “he will not justify these allegations with a response.” So instead, the few friends he does have left in the business have been stepping up to take the heat for him. Most of them are women.
Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Keshia Knight-Pulliam, Whoopi Goldberg, Jill Scott, Stacey Dash and Vivica Fox have all come to the defense of their friend, mentor and/or former co-star. Most of these women have dismissed or questioned the claims of these accusers, and a few have even called the allegations baseless, much like Cosby’s lawyer has every time a new accusation surfaces.
But while they feel that they’re speaking up for good reason, their dismissal of what these women have allegedly gone through is hurtful.
When the media swarm began and women from all walks of life started to come forward, I didn’t want to believe them either. This is someone I grew up watching faithfully. He was behind the strong on-screen African-American family I would hope to one day have when I reached adulthood. This is a man known for his many philanthropic efforts. This is also a man who motivated me during his commencement speech at my alma mater, Temple University.
But something is definitely going on that can’t be ignored.
Whoopi Goldberg’s open skepticism of Barbara Bowman’s accusations on “The View” came off as distasteful: “Don’t you do a kit when you say someone has raped you? Isn’t that the next step once you make an allegation? Don’t the cops take you into a hospital for a kit?” Her questions may seem appropriate, but her choice to pose them on her platform is what keeps other victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
Phylicia Rashad’s own controversial comments and choice to make this situation less about the women and more about a legacy being tarnished alludes to the idea that their hurt and shame isn’t worth listening to.
Like Goldberg and Rashad, I wanted to find “holes” in these stories. I questioned and asked, why now? But that is simply victim shaming, and finding an excuse for Cosby, who chooses to use this situation as material for his stand-up.
And while I look up to most of these women and can appreciate that they have positive relationships with Cosby, they were not there and certainly shouldn’t shut down these women and their stories. Without the facts, you can’t dismiss them or Cosby, so people should stop trying.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 68 percent of sexual assaults are not reported to the police. Discounting these women for when they decided to come forward sends a message to other victims that the road in seeking justice may be too hard and not worth the fight, especially if and when your attacker is rich and famous. Bowman claimed that she was laughed out of an attorney’s office once for coming up with such “stories” about what she had claimed to have been through.
Rape and sexual assault are very hard to talk about. Whether the alleged attacker is John Doe who bags groceries, or a powerful actor with a lengthy list of accomplishments, it is not the VICTIM who should be heavily scrutinized.
We don’t know what happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago in those dressing rooms or within the walls of the home he shares with his wife, Camille. But in such a high-profile case, we should not put these women on trial just because they have been unable to put Cosby on trial within the courts.