Bill Cosby has been in the news a great deal lately. It has recently surfaced that he admitted to obtaining quaaludes for the purpose of having sex with women in 2005. This is not an admission of rape guilt but certainly raises doubt for anyone who has supported him. Even though there will be no legal action taken against Cosby, I’m sure the victims would enjoy seeing him shamed for his crimes, or at least feel remorse.
Since Deadspin blew the Cosby rape claims open with this article in November 2014, I have been struck by so many mysteries within the accusations. I have often wondered in all sexual violence cases, why victims remain silent, why didn’t these women say anything before now? I’m not looking to blame the victims for remaining silent, but I want to know what happens psychologically that keeps them quiet. Also, there are murmurs on the internet that others in the film/tv industry knew of his transgressions and either aided him or kept it silent. Why? I’m also struck by how many supporters he still seems to have regardless of the numerous accusations, and now the testimony admitting his use of drugs for sexual purposes. I am specifically interested in knowing how his wife fit into all of this. I know many times partners are unaware of their spouse’s extramarital (or sexual abuse) affairs, but was he really that good at living two lives, or is she also a victim of his sexual deviance? It is impossible to answer questions specifically related to the Cosby cases, but there are numerous psychology articles that help crack the victim silence mystery.
First of all, women (or any victim) keep silent for many reasons after they have been sexually assaulted. If you read any of the Cosby accuser testimonies, you will see numerous reasons for remaining anonymous. Below is a screenshot from the Deadspin article noting the accusers’ desires to remain unknown. It is mostly that they fear for their safety or privacy.
Fear and powerlessness are at the heart of a victim’s silence. There are many reasons they remain silent, but it all comes down to the powerlessness that victims feel after being attacked. This is what the attacker relies on and specifically how the Cosby attacks were allegedly designed. He created a safe environment for these women, made them feel comfortable and off their guard. Then he drugged them because he wanted the women to feel as powerless as possible. His ultimate fantasy was being powerful and creating a world of doubt in the victim’s mind. After these women recovered from the effects of the drug, they were often unsure of what happened. The accounts suggest they recall not feeling well, feeling weak and afraid. Their memories were marred by the drugs and therefore they were unsure if the foggy memories they had were real. Many of them mention waking up at some point “feeling raw, [their] clothes strewn everywhere. Cosby greeted [them] in his bathrobe” as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He not only wanted his victims to feel powerless and fearful, but he needed them to believe what he had done was acceptable. He also relied on his fame and wholesome reputation to keep these women silent.
According to the journal article, “Being Silenced: The Impact of Negative Social Reactions on the Disclosure of Rape,” a victim must feel they have the ability to use their voices in order to publicize their attacks. Women often feel afraid to report rape because of negative reactions. They may be rejected by loved ones, feel guilt for the attack, feel as if they deserved it and that nobody will believe them. “[F]eminist sociologist Shulamit Reinharz describes voice as ‘having the ability, the means, and the right to express oneself, one’s mind, and one’s will. If an individual does not have these abilities, means, or rights, he or she is silent'” (Reinharz, 1994, p. 180). Respectively in the Cosby accusations, these women remained silent partially because it took time to believe that it had happened.
Cosby’s accusations are not uncommon when you look at sexual violence cases. His interest in using drugs to paralyze victims might be rare but his ability to lure women into a relationship with him is common amongst abusers. In a study done by the Bureau of Justice statistics “[f]or both college students and nonstudents, the offender was known to the victim in about 80% of rape and sexual assault victimizations.” In only about 20% of cases of rape, the attacker was unknown to the victim and a very large percentage of these attacks were not reported. The attacker uses this tactic to have access to its target and in Cosby’s case, the accusers say he was their mentor, someone who promised to help them succeed in business. Other’s claim he helped their family members, gave them gifts and in some cases he was romantically involved with the victims.
Doing research for this case has really opened my eyes to how often women are discredited when in comes to reporting rape. Why is it so hard for us to believe when a woman is victimized. For example, Whoopie Goldberg has been a staunch supporter of Cosby since the accusations surfaced. I can understand in the beginning that she may have wanted to support a friend but as the mountain of evidence (even his own testimony) rises, she still stands behind him. Of course her logic on the matter is completely flawed such as the case below from a Jezebel article (you can also watch the video clip there):
Perhaps Goldberg doesn’t understand the question Collins is asking but somehow she believes these 40 plus rape accusations are the same thing as her being despised by a group of people at a party. Rape is a serious crime, and accusations of this magnitude should be taken seriously, especially by a woman. Aside from celebrity support, the general public likes to take stabs at the victims through comments on the web. These women are described as sluts, gold-diggers, whores and fame seekers. This type of victim-bashing is exactly the reason women feel ashamed and scared to report attacks. Victim blaming comes from a place of not understanding why a woman is silent, why she stays with the abuser or why she chooses to deny that it has happened. As a society, we are ready to believe a man who plays a good guy on television, than the many women who have spoken out. These are mostly women who share very similar stories, don’t know each other and don’t have anything to gain from speaking out.
Psychologically speaking, both the victims and the supporters deal with a high level of fear when it comes to facing an abuser. If the accusations are proven true, Camille Cosby (Bill Cosby’s wife) may be dealing with many of these traumas and that is forcing her to support his every stance. Women who are trapped in an abusive relationship, or in this case married to an abuser might fall into the trap of denial. She may not be abused by Cosby (and that has never been suggested) but she has been married to the man for over 50 years and one has to think she suspected something. If not suspected, turned a blind eye to the kind of person he was. She knew about his 2005 case and his admittance to using drugs as a means to have sex with women but remains ever faithful. It is impossible to know why women stay or why they support the accused but many resources suggest fear or embarrassment as key elements to sticking around. We will probably never know the specifics of Cosby’s psychosis unless he admits to it but the accusations are clear. The most logical step from here and in any sexual violence case is to support the victims and demand justice.