You have probably heard of the name Bill Cosby before. Most recently, you’ve probably heard it in a very different context than you’re used to. I grew up watching The Cosby Show, so I share similar shock to those who were in disbelief when he was charged with sexual assault. Although everyone is innocent until proven guilty, my brain is trained to believe the survivors. Not just because people do not typically lie about being sexually assaulted, but because I understand how hard it is to report it, and can only imagine the added challenges of reporting it when the accused is a well-known, well-loved celebrity.
This article was brought to my attention. The headline itself practically made me fall out of my chair. Bill Cosby plans to teach athletes and married men how to avoid charges of sexual assault. Yes, you read that correctly. I had to double check, too.
Unfortunately, the attitudes discussed in this article are not all too surprising. I’m going to pull a few quotes or lines from the article that I’d like to parse out.
- “The laws are changing, the statute of limitations for victims of sexual assault are being extended, so this is why people need to be educated on a brush against the shoulder,” said Benson [one of Cosby’s spokespersons]. “Because anything at this point can be considered sexual assault and it is a good thing to be educated about the laws.”
So, let’s first clear a few things up. Sexual assault is when one or more person manipulates or forces another into unwanted sexual activity. It is true that laws are different per state, and each degree of sexual assault differ as well. However, this language of the ‘brush of a shoulder’ minimizes the true sexual assaults that do occur. In case this isn’t obvious: it is not okay to touch someone on a sexual part of their body, or in a sexual manner on their body, if they do not want it. Just like it is not okay to kick someone, punch someone, or otherwise assault another person physically. It’s just simply not okay.
- The juror suggested that Constand having worn revealing clothes that showed “a bare midriff” while at Cosby’s house had influenced how he perceived the alleged assault. The fact that Cosby admitted to dosing Constand with sedatives before their sexual encounter, he said, did not sway his opinion on whether or not Cosby had been given consent by Constand before he allegedly penetrated her with his fingers. “He openly admitted that what he gave ’em, he gave ’em pills,” said the juror. “He almost incriminated himself.”
In case this is also not obvious: someone who is unconscious, drugged, or impaired is not able to give consent to sexual activity. Hopefully that goes without argument, but something that was said here that often goes hand-in-hand with arguments is the victim-blaming comment about Constand’s attire and its role in the alleged sexual assault. What someone is wearing or how someone is behaving does not constitute as consent to sexual activity. It also, most certainly, does not excuse sexual assault. Ever. No one ever asks or deserves to be sexually assaulted. The only cause for sexual assault is the person committing the sexual assault. Not the victim’s clothes, or alcohol, or flirtation, or walking alone somewhere. The only thing that constitutes as consent to sexual activity is consent. And THAT is what we should be teaching: consent. Consent is when someone is giving their permission or agreeing to a specific behavior or activity. They must be of age, sober, willing, and again, conscious. It is not just about ‘no means no’. It is about ‘yes means yes’.
- However, the juror also expressed doubts about Constand’s credibility, saying that, “It took her one year to report it … to the police, after the incident. That was a big question.” The juror said that an expert testified that it’s rather common for sexual assault victims to not report an alleged crime, and try to “rectify it in their minds,” as the juror put it, or report it years later. “That’s hard for me to believe,” he said, “that I’ve been injured and it takes me a year to report it. That’s difficult for me to believe.”This is another common misconception about survivors of sexual assault and reporting. The process of reporting a sexual assault can be daunting on a survivor and sometimes re-victimizing or re-traumatizing. It is not something most people view lightly or would do to get their “ten minutes of fame”. A lot is at stake for someone who chooses to report; it is extremely time consuming, their private life (and most intimate details of their life) become public in a way, they have to tell (and re-live) their story over and over again, they have to face their accused and hear their side of their version of the story, and the list goes on. Everyone responds differently to being sexually assaulted; where some people might be angry or want to report it right away, some feel numb or sad and want to forget it ever happened. Some people are embarrassed or ashamed. Some people might seem ‘normal’ after an assault, or even more outgoing or social as a way of dealing with their own experience. There is no right or wrong way to feel, but either way it can be overwhelming. A lot of survivors need time to cope with the traumatic event that took place, so it’s actually not hard to believe at all that it might take someone a year, or years, to come forward and report it when they are ready.
Part of the problem with the culture we live in is a lack of education about what consent means, what sexual assault is, and how survivors might respond to a sexual assault. We tend to have a cookie cutter concept of what a ‘typical’ victim/survivor looks like and how they are expected to respond to their experience. The best way to debunk a lot of these myths and misconceptions is by listening to survivors and their stories (and believing them), and education. So, how about instead of teaching individuals how not to get charged with a sexual assault, we teach individuals not to sexually assault others. Just a thought.