The Bill Cosby Case: A look into the power of victim blaming
A big part of the work that Breaking Silence does is being committed to changing the victim blaming language and culture that still exists. It is easy to forget how much work there still is to be done when we are surrounded by knowing how far we have come. Over the past month, there have been numerous events that have grounded us as an organization.
One of the most prominent of those was the events that took place during and after the Cosby trial. This trial was high profile, complicated, and full of uncertainty because no one could believe that he was capable of committing these crimes. Themes started to arise as people tried to wrap their heads around whether the victim(s) was actually telling the truth and whether her story ‘added’ up.
One common theme was confusion over why the victim was able to remember certain aspects of the assault if she was in and out of consciousness. Many of the jurors held the belief that being unconscious was a constant state of being, as a apposed to something that could have some fluidity to it. It is very important to note and understand that drugs do not always completely incapacitate someone, but render us unable to consent, make sound decision, and control our bodies.
Consent is an ongoing process. It is not assumed. It is stated and not just once but throughout the entire sexual encounter. Andrea Constand was drugged with the intention of being sexually assaulted. It was planned. The drugs did not just happen to be there and he did not just happen to give them to her. She trusted Cosby, as many of us would, and believed that he was not there as an enemy but as a co-worker. We do not assume that someone will sexually assault us. We assume, overwhelming, that people are good and will not do us harm. Most people cannot believe that Bill Cosby would sexually assault over fifty women, yet that is how many have accused him of performing this act over and over. As a society we have not wrapped our heads around the fact that this man who came into our living rooms every week and provided us with laughter, tears, and joy could cause this much harm. Yet, we expected her to know this about him. To not trust him, to be cautious of him and to protect her self from being sexually assaulted from the monster standing before her.
Do you see him as a monster? Even now? Even with everything? Or does part of you believe that just maybe these women got it all wrong? Here is the thing about sexual assault, something this intimate does not just happen. It is not something that falls into our lives. The majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone we know (70% of victims reported knowing their offender) and probably have some level of trust with them. He was not a stranger that climbed into her bed in the middle of the night wearing a mask. He was the king of comedy, the loving father we all wished we had, and the man that represented what it meant to be protected and safe. What was not to trust?
That leads to the next aspect; that the victim should have been able to avoid what happened to her. Are there things that we can do to protect ourselves from a lot of occurrences, of course. We lock our doors, we check both ways before crossing the street, but we do these things because we know that there is a risk of something bad happening if we do not. If we do not feel like we are in danger it is hard to know what to do to protect ourselves from the unknown. It is not the responsibility of the victim to know that they are about to become a victim, it is the responsibility of the offender to not offend people. The ONLY thing that we should teach people is not to rape others. There is no dress that can be worn, or a walk down an alley way, or a drink that can be drunk that justifies another person deciding to have sex with someone without their consent. The fact that Cosby is going to go out and teach people how to not get accused of sexual assault (which I am assuming does not include the most obvious first step of making sure to not sexually assault someone) takes away from the amazing work that is being done by so many.
The language around prevention, and actually making sure that people are no longer harmed has to be about people not harming others NOT about the victim somehow protecting themselves or not doing certain behaviors. It is NEVER the fault of the victim and until that is engrained into our society sexual assault will continue to be the most under reported crime and people like Bill Cosby will walk away from what they did no worse for the wear.