In this week’s #FeministFriday, Elle finally takes a stab at the Cosby rape trainwreck. Given the subject matter, there’s content in here that could be upsetting to some readers, just so you’re aware.
Bill Cosby is a rapist. That is a fact. He gave drugs to women in order to coerce them into sex, and if you’re a reasonable person, you define that as rape. Even if the statute of limitations has expired. Even if it’s not “legally” true.
Bill Cosby is a rapist. This has been true for many decades. It’s definitely been true since 2005, when Andrea Constand tried to have Cosby prosecuted for rape, but the District Attorney decline to prosecute. It’s been true since Constand sued Cosby in civil court, with supporting affidavits from thirteen other women. It’s been true since Cosby settled with Constand out of court. It was certainly true in October 2014 when comedian Hannibal Burress called Cosby out as a rapist during his act. (And isn’t it so great that people only got interested in the case after a famous male comedian accused Cosby of rape, instead of his after the accusations of his mostly-anonymous female victims? That’s really just so, so great.) Basically, it’s been true for a very, very, long time.
So why did so many people act like it finally became true when his deposition from the court case with Constand was unsealed, and people finally read him admitting to drugging women with quaaludes for the purpose of having sex? And why didn’t the majority of headlines use the word “rape” when they began reporting on this? People like David Greenwald pointed out that various headlines danced around the word “rape” when describing Cosby’s intent to rape people, and he’s absolutely right:
New York Post: “Cosby’s Sex Bombshell”
There were many more, but sadly there have been so many updates and think pieces and countersuits and Camille Cosby standing by her man articles that I had trouble finding articles published at the time the deposition was first unsealed. That is how bad this case is. The internet has already moved on to even worse parts. But look at that language. “Sex Bombshell.” “Scandalous.” Like he got caught having an affair instead of raping 40+ women. And “Cosby said he got drugs to give women for sex” is using a lot of unnecessary words to describe something that boils down to “Cosby admitted to rape.” Because that’s what it is called when you give women drugs to have sex with them. The really sad thing is that for me, this wasn’t even the worst part.
Well, there were multiple worst parts. I kept thinking I had found the worst part, and then there were more worst parts.
The first worst part was Whoopi Goldberg. She first said that “the 80’s weren’t fun for everybody” which is possibly the most horrific misunderstanding of rape I’ve heard since “legitimate rape” became a phrase (“shut that whole thing down,” as they say). She trotted out the old chestnut that Cosby is “innocent until proven guilty,” and said that everyone hating Cosby for rapist was similar to everyone hating her for having her boyfriend perform a roast in blackface, which invoked a backlash she is apparently still upset about. Sorry, Whoopi. The 90s weren’t fun for everybody. A few days later, after having words like “statute of limitations” explained to her, as well as the depressing fact that due to our ridiculous sex crime statutes, Cosby will probably never be proven “legally” guilty, she had a change of heart.
Unfortunately, Whoopi Goldberg is just the public face of what was a general trend: people refusing to believe that Bill Cosby was guilty of rape until they “heard it” from his own mouth. Which is absolutely crazy, and goes against basically every other criminal case in the history of ever. If we had to rely on a suspect confessing in order to successfully prosecute them, we would have way fewer people in prison. (We’d probably mostly have the innocent people who falsely confessed after police coercion.) Most of the time we rely on other evidence to convict someone, and victim or witness testimony is very high on the list of evidence that can lead to a conviction. So why, when all you need to convict someone officially is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” were the stories of 46 women not proof that Cosby is a rapist? Why did it take seeing his deposition to actually have the “aha” moment? There are a lot of things that go into it, but (as has been discussed by various outlets so I won’t hash out all the details here) it comes down to an unwillingness to believe that a famous and inspiring figure could do anything so terrible, and a culture that is quicker to provide excuses to a rapist than comfort to his or her victims.
Right before I started writing this, New York Magazine published a very powerful, and very heartbreaking, piece about the women who have identified Cosby as a rapist. 35 of the 46 women agreed to be photographed and tell their stories. On the cover, they each sit in a chair, gazing levelly at the reader. These are not “hysterical” women, these are not “gold diggers.” These are survivors of rape, who have been disbelieved, mocked, threatened, and insulted for telling their stories. At the end of the bottom row is an empty chair, signifying both the other 11 women who have come forward but didn’t appear in the article, as well as any woman who has been raped by Cosby and not come forward yet. Of course, this being the internet and people being awful, the article was instantly the subject of hacking attacks, but it seems to be better now.
I strongly encourage everyone to read the piece itself, for multiple reasons. The first is that it discusses more details about the deposition, including the fact that Cosby specifically sought out women who were not doing well financially, that he told his victims that no one would believe them, that he apparently did not see a difference between providing alcohol to a woman and drugging a woman, and that “in the deposition, Cosby seemed confident that his behavior did not constitute rape; he apparently saw little difference between buying someone dinner in pursuit of sex and drugging them to reach the same goal.” Excuse me while I go try to convince myself that Cosby is the only man in the world who doesn’t see any difference between buying someone dinner and drugging them….
Okay, I’m back. I knew that wasn’t going to work. The most important reason that everyone should read the article (and should click on every. Single. Picture.) is that this is what we can now do for these women. Aside from continuing to ensure that Cosby can never have another interview where someone doesn’t ask him about the rape accusations, and that we always remember his actions when we are remembering his achievements in comedy, this is what we can do. We can honor these women, and apologize to them, by finally listening to their stories. By learning their names, knowing their faces, and acknowledging what happened to them.
Bill Cosby has been a rapist for decades, and these women have known that. It’s time that we all admit that we know that, too.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not trying to explain that drugging someone without their consent so you can have sex with them without their consent is rape, she studies gender in popular culture.