How could Bill Cosby rape more than 50 women over a number of decades while maintaining his success and popularity?
There are good reasons why the media focus has been on the personal and specific details of this case. Bill Cosby was an icon who broke racial barriers and was much admired for, of all things, his moral character. But his behavior is all too common and society’s response to his outrageous abuses can best be described as normal.
The latest count is that 55 of his victims have now come forward to publicly reveal his sexual assaults and rapes. This fits perfectly with statistics that only 2% of rapes result in a conviction. If he is convicted in the present case, he would also have been convicted of 2% of his sexual crimes. Of course rape is one of the most under-reported crimes so it is likely that crime statistics and the number of women victimized by Cosby are understated.
It is about here in the story that reporters point out that these are only charges, and he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. This is a fundamental precept and protection in our judicial system. It means he cannot be punished by the criminal justice system until and unless he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But my concern is the societal response to rape and sexual abuse, which should not be limited to cases in which a conviction is obtained. The 98% of victims whose rapists are never convicted do not suffer any less because there is no conviction.
What are the chances that all 55 women are lying about Cosby’s sexual assaults? Deliberate false reports occur less than 2% of the time although the myth of frequent lies undermines society’s ability to prevent rape. It will take someone more proficient in mathematics with a powerful computer to calculate the infinitesimal chances they are all lying. And that is before we consider the enormous harm his assaults have had on the lives of his victims and his admissions like the deposition in which he acknowledged purchasing Quaaludes to use for sex with young women.
Cosby Is a Symptom of a Larger Problem
Imagine what the banking industry would do if bank robbery had a conviction rate of 2 percent. Our tolerance for sexual assault is far more harmful, but victims have far less influence than the banking industry. For survivors, rape is often a life-altering trauma. It can result in a lifetime of physical and mental health problems, undermine the ability to enjoy life and engage in normal activities, and it prevents survivors from reaching their potential.
In political terms, the concept of the “War on Women” developed in response to efforts by mostly male politicians to restrict the rights and violate the most fundamental privacy considerations of women in an effort to oppose abortion and contraception. Some of these politicians sincerely believe they are morally required to use almost any means to prevent what they view as the murder of children. They often promote severe limitations on women’s rights in order to prevent rare types of abortion. Our tolerance for predators to sexually assault girls and women is far more likely to lead to abortion, both from the original rape and the fact that rape and sexually abuse often lead to poor choices regarding sexual activity. In other words, anyone who sincerely opposes abortion and understands the consequences of rape and child sexual abuse would have to make prevention of sexual assault a high priority. And yet it seems that politicians who are most willing to violate women’s privacy rights are least willing to take effective steps to prevent rape and sexual assault.
The Cosby Scandal is just the latest sexual abuse scandal that society permitted to continue over decades. Nothing was done in response to scandals in the Catholic Church, Penn State, the Boy Scouts and various private schools. Only recently has the Obama administration created programs to stop sexual assaults on campus and in the military. And the biggest and most harmful sexual abuse scandal remains hidden in plain sight.
The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 22% of children in the United States are sexually abused by offenders before they reach 18. The methodology specifically eliminated any possibility that false reports were considered so we know about one-quarter of America’s children must live their lives as sexual abuse survivors.
Researchers have long known that most sexual assault, about 93%, is committed by someone the victim knows. This was true in all of the Cosby assaults. But politicians have created responses that take stranger rapes far more seriously. Camille Cooper wrote an important chapter in volume II of Domestic Violence, Abuse and Child Custody. She found that society discriminates against children sexually assaulted by someone they know especially close relatives. When the perpetrator is a stranger, the investigation is led by law enforcement; the purpose is to gather evidence in order to bring criminal charges and they aggressively seek to interview the alleged offender and pressure him to take a polygraph exam. When the alleged assailant is a family member, the investigation is led by a social worker. They give notice to the parents, allowing time for evidence to be destroyed and the child silenced. The purpose is reunification, so little effort is made to preserve evidence. If the case goes to custody court this lack of evidence is treated as proof the reports are deliberately false.
Custody courts which are designed to promote relationships with both parents use a variety of practices that help parents who commit incest. Lawyers routinely tell their clients not to raise sexual abuse issues even with strong evidence. This is because 85% of cases involving sexual abuse result in the alleged abuser gaining custody and mothers are often punished by supervised or no visitation in response to efforts to protect their children. The Saunders’ Study explains how this catastrophic response to child sexual abuse could occur. Dr. Saunders’ found that professionals without the specific knowledge and training needed tend to believe the myth that mothers frequently make false reports and focus on unscientific alienation theories. These mistaken assumptions lead courts to disbelieve true reports of abuse.
Many people are rightfully outraged that Cosby could have assaulted so many women. The greater outrage is that he got away with this for so long and that his “success” is so common. As a society, we have never made the prevention of rape and child sexual abuse the priority it deserves.
SHAME on Cosby for hurting so many women!
SHAME on politicians who have failed to create the response necessary to make women and children safer!
SHAME on the media that profits from sensational stories about individual cases but fails to expose the pattern that would demand reforms!
And SHAME on us if we read about Cosby and then go about our business without demanding a campaign similar to the ones regarding sexual assault in the military and on college campuses! When we read the stories of Cosby’s victims, isn’t it obvious that no one should ever be subjected to such horrific abuse?