Victim blaming and sexual assault are phrases we’ve become all too familiar with lately, but it seems we still refuse to listen to cries for justice.
Over a dozen women have accused Bill Cosby of rape after decades of silence. Allegations of sexual abuse against the famous actor involve Cosby using force, manipulation and coercion due to his celebrity status. Yet America’s favourite dad has gone so far without being rebuked for his actions.
The first response the public seems to have is to ask, “What took them so long?” The problem here is that we are asking the victims that to begin with. The fact that we don’t see an issue with this attitude and asking this question is where we as a society have gone wrong.
Asking a victim of any other crime to explain themselves as though they are responsible for the actions of the perpetrator would be silly, yet when it comes to sexual violence it is an anomaly not to. In theory, the idea of victim-blaming is ludicrous; in reality it is a common practice employed to restore equilibrium to the false sense of security we have constructed for ourselves where everything is okay and there are no unwanted consequences to our actions.
Whoopi Goldberg came to Cosby’s defence on The View.
“Don’t you do a kit when you say someone has raped you? Perhaps the police might have believed it, or the hospital,” she said.
Goldberg said she is reserving judgement until the evidence displays a clear verdict. But there is a glaring problem in her statement which suggests that it is the victim’s fault for not having evidence. As if the rational thing to do when we find ourselves the victim of a crime is to go hunting for clues to incriminate the person we claim did it.
What about innocent until proven guilty? Doesn’t Cosby deserve that? To which I ask, what about the innocence of the victims? Are we really assuming they are guilty of lying and denying them the same defence of innocence we extend toward someone who has been accused by enough people to comprise an entire jury?
Maybe the Cosby allegations are getting out of hand — he seems to think so — telling Florida Today, “I know people are tired of me not saying anything, but a guy doesn’t have to answer to innuendos. People should fact check. People shouldn’t have to go through that and shouldn’t answer to innuendos.”
It doesn’t matter what Cosby thinks anymore. His actions are his and we ought to serve justice where it is due. The real issue now lies in facing society’s mentality towards rape, women and victimizing those involved.
Are we so used to the idea that rape victims somehow “deserved it” that it’s become a mundanity? The bystander effect — the idea that if nobody else intervenes in a compromising situation, neither will we — a well documented social phenomenon, implicates us in the suffering that sexual assault inflicts upon people and maybe that is just too uncomfortable for us to accept.
Yet justice has little room for comfort. By no means does passivity equate with the act of rape itself, but it has a far more damaging effect than we are aware of as evidenced by the stories of the women who have come forward.
One of the women who came forward, Barbara Bowman, told Rolling Stone that she dealt first-hand with society’s passivity towards addressing rape.
“I have been trying to be heard since 2006. We have a culture that re-victimizes the victims. It is the most shameful, scary, intimidating, filthy place to live. It is a place of shame and darkness and fear. When people ask, ‘Why didn’t you tell anyone?’ Well I did tell someone.”
This problem is bigger than the status Cosby commands. We’ve got some wrongs to make right and if the only people talking about it are the people we refuse to listen to in the first place, we’re in real trouble.
Photo: Flickr / Shawn