There’s a resurgence of rape allegations against Dr. Bill Cosby—complete with a new ever-growing cast of victims. As the Black community builds a cocoon of support around him, there’s a disturbing backlash against his accusers—who happen to be white women. Rape (and other forms of sexual assault) is a seriously under-reported crime in the United States. Because of that, our response to these accusations must proceed with great caution and attempts to make this a racial issue should be restrained—at least for now.
Bill Cosby is not new to allegations of sexual assault. Andrea Constand –the only woman to file formal charges—came forward in 2005 alleging a 2004 sexual assault. In support of Ms. Constand, Barbara Bowman and 13 anonymous others came forward in 2005 with reports that they too, were assaulted by the actor/comedian/author/producer/activist. Although the DA did not have enough evidence to charge him in a criminal case, Bill Cosby settled out of court with her in 2006.
It’s extremely distressing (especially in the Black community) to think that our beloved “America’s Dad” could be capable of such repeated heinous acts. As a man who has accomplished a lifetime of accolades and who has been a beacon for Blacks both on screen and off, it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around these accusations. But as a responsible societal member, we must not be quick to vilify the women who’ve come forward.
I watched Don Lemon interview one of Cosby’s accuser’s, Joan Tarshis, on CNN (via YouTube) the other day. When asked why she did not come forward after the alleged assaults, she said: “Who’s going to believe me? Bill Cosby, the All American Dad, the All American Husband, Mr. Jell-O that everybody loves…who would believe me?” One YouTube commentator correctly noted that he didn’t do the Jell-O ads until 1974 and the Cosby show even later than that—in 1984. But this isn’t a chronological memory. This is an all-encompassing image of Bill Cosby that perhaps she, over the course of many years, struggled with while dealing with what allegedly happened to her. Put into perspective, there was a six-year passage of time between the supposed assault and his first Jell-O commercial. During this period, “Hey, Hey, Hey…It’s Fat Albert” ran as a primetime special (in 1969, the year of the alleged assault) and, later in 1972, “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” was becoming one of the best cartoons of the 70s. Cosby’s star was continually on the rise. One can’t help but wonder how many times over that 6-year period she wanted to say something to her own mother– who was crazy about this man. Sexual assault is not a cut and dry crime. Nor is the way victims respond to it.
According to the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of all rapes are NOT reported. Even more distressing 97% of abusers never see the inside of a prison. Deep shame and embarrassment are among reasons victims do not come forward. Some are so traumatized they bury the assault for years until something triggers flashbacks. Others, as in the case of Dr. Cosby’s accusers, are victims of people in power (whether perceived or real). It is not uncommon for people to come forward 10, 20, or 30 years after an assault.
It’s an insult and a disservice to victims everywhere when we insult and bully them in the media or any forum. There may very well be recent victims who are now terrified to come forward. Fifteen plus women alleging sexual assault can no longer be ignored. This is an unfortunate “lose-lose” situation for all involved and has already become a hot Black/White issue on social media.
He’s not the only TV dad to disappoint us. Actor Stephen Collins of 7th Heaven confessed to being a child molester to his wife—who recorded and released the confession to the media. Collins, a white, actor is also being destroyed in the media (rightly so since he verbally confessed!). Now some will say that there’s a clear difference between the two however, sexual abuse is still a forceful criminal act—both disgusting and disturbing. Collins admitted his crime verbally whereas Cosby could very well have admitted it by settling out of court with Ms. Constand.
Sexual predators have a type. For Collins it’s children. Perhaps for Cosby, it’s young and impressionable white women. Money is power and money talks and let’s face it, Bill Cosby has plenty of both. Remember the accusations lobbied against priests in the Catholic churches? Grown men in their 30s and 40s were among those who came forward to speak out about their sexual abusers. Their allegations were also well beyond the legal statutes of limitations. Are their claims less valid because they didn’t come forward immediately?
There are facts that cannot be disputed at this point. He paid Shawn Upshaw $100,000 to keep her quiet about an affair they had in the 70s. He settled a sexual abuse lawsuit with Andrea Constand. It begs the question “How many silences has he bought to protect his image?” Everyone has secrets and this man is no exception.
Is this a modern-day ‘lynching’ of Bill Cosby? I hope not. Has my opinion of him changed? I can’t look at him and not wonder. Before we give in to our urgent desire to defend Bill Cosby, my position is that we wait and see how the rest of this story unfolds before we yell racism. Why? Because there are thousands of unreported and late reported rapes every year and when these men, women, and children step forward, someone has to believe them.
©2014Kim R. Woods all rights reserved