In recent weeks, it’s become apparent to just about everybody that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. The first known rape occurred in the 1960’s. By 2015, 46 women had publicly accused him of rape. Many people didn’t want to believe that any of this could be true until 3 weeks ago, when Cosby’s deposition in a 2005 case became public — including his shocking admission that he obtained drugs to give to women that — in his words — he wanted to have sex with (the reality is that an unconscious person cannot consent to sex, so women that he wanted to rape is a more accurate description). It was only after Cosby confirmed many of the details of these women’s stories that people finally believed them (Cosby still denies all allegations). Why did it take so long for the public to believe these women? The answer boils down to this: rape culture.
There is, of course, some truth to the assertion that nobody wanted to believe that the beloved Cliff Huxtable could be a rapist, or that the man who held himself out as a pillar of a society could be a dangerous predator. But that is not the real reason that it took so long for people to recognize this man for who he is — the real reason is that we live in a rape culture. We are conditioned to disbelieve women who say that they have been raped — to question their motives and ask what they might have done to provoke it. We ask women if they really said no, if they fought back enough, what they were wearing, and how much they had to drink. We worry more about the effects of an accusation on a rapist than on the trauma suffered by the victim. In Cosby’s case, these elements of rape culture combined to form a toxic stew. His victims were accused of wanting money and fame, and questioned as to why they would go to his hotel room, why they would drink with him, and why they would go see him again. Rather than focus on what dozens of women were saying — that Bill Cosby raped them — people focused instead on how each of these women must be lying or somehow at fault for what happened. The spotlight’s harsh glare did not truly fall on Cosby until we were able to read his own words about what had happened. It took the words of just one man to finally convince us of what 46 women could not — that Bill Cosby is a rapist. And it is only now that many people and institutions are finally breaking with Cosby, more than a decade after the first rape allegation against Cosby became public knowledge.
This week, 35 of the 46 women agreed to be photographed by New York Magazine and tell their stories. These stories are remarkably similar — both in the details of their assaults and their feelings afterwards. This article, combined with Cosby’s own words should leave no doubt: Bill Cosby is a master manipulator and serial rapist. But he is far from the only rapist out there, and if nothing else, we must learn from this episode if we ever hope to see real change in our society. First and foremost, we must believe victims — every time, without fail. Second, we have to truly understand rape culture in order to defeat it — education is the key! Third, you can get involved and give back in tangible ways, from becoming a conscious consumer of media to volunteering for or donating to our organization (LINK). Yes, our collective reaction to the Cosby allegations was disturbing — but we have the power to change our society.