Bill Cosby and rape are two subjects that most people would not ever combine in the same sentence. Bill Cosby is a legend – the ultimate TV father figure. How can he be a rapist? So far no legal entity has even accused him of rape not to mention finding him guilty. Still more than a dozen women say otherwise, and social media has tried and convicted him. Once someone is labeled as a rapist, it is very hard to wash off that label even when it’s not true.
“She’s a Witch”
In colonial times the label of Witch was a mark from which there was often no escape. The science of discovering a witch was also very interesting. Hold them underwater long enough and if they survive, they are a witch and then you burn them or hang them. If they didn’t survive – well it’s still ok because you can’t be too sure about these things. So what prompted the charges in the first place? Theory has it that some of the behavior said to be caused by the witches was actually caused by moldy grain. Some of this can be ascribed to hysteria and mob mentality, but for some it was probably a tool. Feel your relationship is threatened by someone – just call her a witch and the mob will do the rest for you. Interested in a piece of property that the owner won’t sell – just call them a Witch and there will be a for sale sign in no time. Or perhaps you had sex with someone you weren’t supposed to and people found out. Clearly demonic possession gives you the out and public sympathy you were looking for. The witch label clearly doesn’t have the weight that it used to 300 years ago, but rapist has about the same effect.
The Power of the Label
Over the years I’ve worked with a few people who have been convicted of crimes. One gentleman was convicted of murder, got off on a technicality and got his old job back. He may as well have been on a vacation based on how he was treated when he returned. Another did a few years for securities fraud and was openly welcomed back into the fold. In contrast the guy who was drugging and raping women in the office, he’s almost due for release but I can guarantee he won’t be welcome anywhere near his former office. I think you would find this scenario played out just about anywhere. I never felt uncomfortable around either of the first two after their release. Contestant #3 I would never want to deal with again. I think most people would have the same reaction. The problem is that we tend to have the same reaction regardless of guilt.
The First to Come Forward
The first person to come forward in a sexual assault case has an enormous amount of power and responsibility. With children, it’s rare that someone makes up charges of sexual abuse (with the exception of parental abuse charges during custody disputes). With adults it isn’t always as clear. The problem is that in those rare cases where motives are less than honorable, it clouds all of the legitimate cases out there. As a culture we are still emerging from a mindset that often paints women as temptresses and men their victims. It’s been ingrained into us since our first bible teachings about Adam and Eve. Most people have heard about an instance and heard something to the effect of “well – what does she expect with the way she dresses”. As absurd as that is, a lot of people nod and chock it up to being her fault.
Coming forward takes a huge amount of courage largely because some variation of these social reactions is likely to confront the victim. If you get robbed, no one questions whether you should have been carrying so much money around and assumes it was partially your fault. In sexual assaults there is almost some degree of blame put on the victims for something. As a culture we are starting to wake up and realize that isn’t true, but it’s still an uphill battle for any victim. Being the first to come forward all eyes are going to be on you. If you follow through with police reports and investigations it adds to your credibility and may empower others to stand up as well. In the case of child sexual assault, when someone is arrested the first time, it’s estimated that some have had as many as 75 other victims that didn’t come forward. Adult sexual assault victims are typically not as high, but if you are a victim, you probably aren’t the first.
If your police report is quickly closed and followed by an undisclosed out of court settlement, it brings question of motives. On the other hand, a criminal trial followed by a civil suit generally brings support. Neither view is always correct. Having been through both the criminal and civil legal systems with this, the only winners are the lawyers. I can see why someone might take a settlement rather than spend years fighting to get justice. Much like civil rights 50 years ago, I think it’s important for victims to stand up so that the extent of the problem can be realized. But this is an individual choice for everyone who has been a victim. We can’t judge a victim just based on how they handle the reporting of their abuse. I will say in most cases, the first to come forward is generally followed by several others
What about Bill
So this brings us back to Bill Cosby. He’s a prominent public figure who is beloved by generations of people. He’s also admitted to past marital indiscretions and he has the money to make problems go away. Can 12 women be wrong? or are they seeking a quick buck? Some of the allegations go back 30 years but no one has seen them as worthy of court action. 30 years ago most sexual abuse went unreported and unprosecuted. So what do you do about it now?
A few years ago after a local pediatrician died, the people who bought his house were renovating and found a secret compartment in the wall that had thousands of pictures of children. People came forward in droves for the lawsuit against the local hospital. There had been some unsubstantiated allegations over the years, but most people thought the world of the doctor. People aren’t always what they appear.
It’s hard to know if Bill Cosby deserves our support or condemnation. We know he’s not perfect, but based on the roles he has played, we have put him on a pedestal of what the ideal dad should be. Invariably, people on pedestals become targets. It’s hard to know if that is what happened here. What Bill Cosby does deserve is to not be tried and convicted by the media in the name of ratings. Conversely women who claim to be victims should have a path to file complaints legally and have them followed through by competent police and/or lawyers. CNN is not the place to tell the world you were raped by a celebrity without having a solid legal trail leading up to it.