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January 1, 2016

What Bill Cosby’s Defenders tell us about Society’s Attitude toward Rape.

Ted Eytan/Flickr

The day many thought would never come, did. On Wednesday, December 30, 2015, legendary comedian Bill Cosby (A.K.A. Dr. Cliff Huxtable to those of us of a certain generation) was formally charged with second-degree aggravated indecent assault from an alleged incident occurring in 2004.

Cobsy, who pleaded not guilty and was released on a one million dollar bond, claimed via his lawyer that “it’s all politics” and said there will be no plea agreement.

While Cosby’s fate will ultimately be decided by the legal system, it seems that in the court of public opinion it may remain indefinitely unsettled.

Cosby’s arraignment sparked a huge response across social media. Celebrities like Lena Dunham and Mia Farrow, as well as regular people, weighed in. While many showed support for Cosby’s alleged victims, a vocal minority attacked them as “liars,” golddiggers and far worse. (“B*tches” was one of the tamer words that I saw.)

On my social media feed, I saw more than a few posts stating that even if these women had been slipped drugs like they claimed, and even if Cosby had engaged in sex with them without their consent, it was somehow okay because in the words of one:

“These females. . . were/are grown adults fully knowing of what they were partaking in. And, unlike minors who are dependent & considered unable to make conscious decisions by the “legal system” these, INDEPENDENT women, however, are responsible for there own choices by that same “legal system.” Furthermore if you’re “passed out” then that means you’re unaware & unable to WITNESS events of your surroundings, thus there is nothing to “remember.”” (sic)

As I read that and similar comments, all I could wonder was, Are there really people out there who don’t realize that having sex with someone without their consent is rape? That being unconscious by its very nature makes people unable to give consent? Can some people not understand that anyone can be a victim of rape?

Unfortunately, it turns out that many people believe that only certain situations involving certain individuals actually qualify as “real rape.” It’s an attitude that both enrages and saddens me.

In the many years I have written about my own experience as a sexual assault survivor, false rape claims and overall societal attitudes toward sexual assault, the one thing that has baffled me time and again is how many people have a hard time accepting that anyone can be a sexual assault victim.

Male, female, young, old—there is no “typical” victim mold.

Furthermore, not all victims are necessarily people we happen to “like” or after whom we would pattern our own lives. For instance, I notice that when I share I was sexually assaulted at 12 no one ever asks me what I was wearing, why I was alone with my attacker or if I liked him. However, when I share I was also assaulted years later as an adult, I often get asked the above, along with expressed doubts that I was “really raped” since I had had consensual sex with him prior to the attack.

While some readers may claim that the Cosby situation is unique in that it involves a well-known, formerly beloved celebrity, the attitudes that I see—particularly those that the alleged victims must have wanted to have sex or where expecting “something” by being alone with him—are often trotted out, regardless of the accused’s celebrity standing.

The truth is, we have a real crisis in this society that needs to be fixed if there is ever going to be an end to rape and sexual assault.

Simply put, we need to keep in mind that it does not matter if a victim was ever attracted to their attacker. It does not matter if they ever had sex with them, ever expressed the desire to do so or even met up with someone hoping that it would lead to sex.

Non consensual sex is rape. If there is no consent or it cannot be given, then it is rape. 

Furthermore, even if one cannot remember their attack, that doesn’t lessen the trauma of it or mean that it doesn’t count.

These things truly need no “buts” or “ifs,” because they simply do not apply.

Hopefully, one day soon all of us will realize this, making the fight against rape and sexual assault somewhat easier, and making victims of attacks feel it’s okay to share their stories.

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Relephant Reads:

The Real Problem with “Guilty By Social Media.”

Fallout from the Bill Cosby Scandal: Why Some Still Defend Him.

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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Toby Israel

Image: Ted Eytan/Flickr

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