The ‘Lancer doesn’t seek out too many polarizing social issues, but I think we’re about due for some societal self-honesty on this one. After watching a show in which about a dozen of the victims spoke their pieces, let’s make this simple.
First: some fifty women have come forward, telling tales similar enough to reveal a consistent drugging and assault modus operandi, distinct enough not to be copycat. Their messages are consistent and credible: it happened decades ago, no one would have believed me, I had no power. Okay. While I think we all agree two rapes are worse than one, and fifty are worse than forty-nine, the largest gap is between zero and one. One true account would be enough to render someone guilty, in moral fact if not in legal prosecution. Thus: you either believe that all fifty-plus stories are fabrications–not just most, but every last one–or you believe that at least one rape occurred, which would render the rapist a…well, a rapist. All of the stories I’ve heard sounded quite credible, whereas the notion that all of them are fabricated beggars believability. And even one would be quite bad enough, because one is far worse than zero. Zero is the only acceptable number of rapes.
Second: why is it hard for us to swallow? I’ll tell you why. Because Bill Cosby was very comforting and congenial to white America. I can’t speak for black America, but for us, the natural reaction was like that toward Shoeless Joe Jackson: “say it ain’t so!” We don’t want it to be true. Much shatters under its impact. It causes discomfort, plus embarrassment at a sense of having been sold a bill of goods. I put it to you this way: whatever discomfort it causes me, or any non-victim, pales before the discomfort suffered by a single victim. My discomfort is trivial. It wasn’t my trust that was shattered in person. It wasn’t my body that suffered violation. It wasn’t my psyche that spent decades trying to come to terms with sexual assault. Our system is criticized, and fairly, for kissing up to the victimizer and doing too little for the victim. I’m not going to play into that. Yes, the accusations have wrecked a once-adored legacy. They have not wrecked his personal fortune. Whatever discomfort he has suffered, which is far more than anything I have, likewise pales in comparison to that of a single victim. I’m going to reserve my compassion for the victims, and my respect for their choices to speak out.
Third: an accusation of sexual assault is a heinous thing. If false, well, I do not have the letters JD after my name, but I have a strong suspicion that an uttered false accusation falls into the category of ‘slander.’ If written, I believe it is called ‘libel.’ Either way, it might give rise to those words ‘irreparably damaged,’ involving such remedy as the law might allow. All right, suppose one is libeled, or slandered, or both. Suppose one also has unlimited wealth. If it were me, and the accusation were groundless calumny, and I could afford to buy justice, I’d sure as hell go to justice Costco and get a flatcart. I’d sue every last accuser for $10 plus a public retraction and apology, just to make the point that it wasn’t about crushing the accuser beyond the legal fees s/he incurred. (It would also seem to be far easier, goes the evil side of my mind, to persuade a jury to award that, and easier to collect than a large sum of money the individual did not have and I didn’t need.) With that much money, one could do such things. If the accusation were truly false, who would not seek one’s own vindicating day in court? My logic, again uninformed by study of the law but reasonably well informed by an understanding of tactical thought and dirty tricks, goes like this: the only reason I don’t go to court in that case is if I’m terrified of what would go on the record, and if I have some sense that the truth stated in open court would be the one thing I could do to make my situation worse. Better to depend upon the sound-bite attention span of the public, and wait for the media to order the public to care about fresher and more lurid stories.
That seems to have occurred.
One can add many arguments, and people already have, beginning with the one about what a false accuser would have to gain from exposing herself to all the public inquiry when the incidents in question are surely beyond the statutes of limitations. Many such arguments are valid, but none are needed. Based upon the foregoing alone, it makes no sense to disbelieve the women, the victims–the ones about whom we should care most. And if we believe them, they must be our priority. They deserve the support of honest men and women, but men in particular, because the number of male rapists dwarfs the number of female rapists. And if honest men want that to improve, we need to take our stand. It begins by choosing to believe victims’ statements, where our reason deems them credible. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s an important service to victims is welcome to find a victim and ask him or her if being believed (or disbelieved) makes a difference. You won’t have to ask two.
I’m not writing this for my friends who are survivors, because my viewpoint is no news to them. I’m writing this for people I may not know, who have never told a soul, who live with the pain in psychological jails they constructed to get them through life. They most need the support. And if the event didn’t actually happen, no one would build such a psychological jail and live within it. The descriptions of the impact ring true with those I have heard from others. The only reasonable conclusion is to believe them.
I’m not going to feel guilty for laughing at good comedy in the past, but I’ll just have to accept that good comedy doesn’t necessarily imply good character, nor does an acclaimed family sitcom.
I’m not laughing anymore.
2 thoughts on “Cosby allegations: breaking it down”
You said it like it is, and so much better than any of us could have. Thankfully, I’ve never truly been sexually assaulted — but tragically, I have worked with some who have. I can’t even convey what they are going through. Thank you for this post.
As an aside, RNs may earn certification as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. These unsung professionals commonly work in ERs, even small rural ones, and are very much worth learning more about:
Thank you, OSG. I am heartily glad you’ve never been a victim. I am very glad that there are nursing professionals who specialize in the field, because that phase is the next ordeal for a victim and anything that can be done to make it less traumatic, must be.