There are currently approximately fifteen women that are accusing Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them. Their stories all have a familiar ring to it. Most of these women had aspirations of working in the entertainment industry, they met Mr. Cosby at an event and he took them under his wing. At a certain point, when the two of them are alone, he gives them a pill and a glass of alcohol. The last thing these women remember from the encounter is being raped by Bill Cosby, but unable to fight him off due to the debilitating nature of the drugs they took. Most become unconscious a short time later when the full effect of the drugs takes hold.
By today’s standards these women have been raped. By giving someone drugs and or alcohol you are taking away their ability to consent. If they can not consent then anything that occurs of a sexual nature is an unwarranted invasion, assault and rape. Some of these women spoke out when the attacks occurred many years ago, but were told by the justice system that there was insufficient evidence to proceed. Prosecutors did not want to charge a famous and well beloved man of a crime unless it was a slam dunk case. Because of a wide variety of factors rape is often a difficult crime to prove. The attacks often happen in private locations and lack credible witnesses. In many rape cases there is little physical evidence on the victim, no bruising or tearing of bodily tissue or other signs of trauma that sex was not consensual. This is hard for us to accept in American culture where we see episodes of CSI or Law and Order where fictitious crime labs are able to find the exact right type of evidence to solve the case. Cases of rape are under prosecuted and have a staggeringly low conviction rate. This in turn causes women not to report rapes when they happen. Why should they stick their neck out and have their personal information, medical history and habits put on public display for a system that has so utterly failed them?
What is most shocking is that when some of these women were victimized what occurred to them would not have been classified as rape, or assault or any other crime. By the standards in place twenty to thirty years ago these women participated in consensual sex. That is why many of these allegations never went to trial. The men in power did not see their rape as a criminal act. They only saw a woman having lover’s remorse and nothing more. Here is the most common list of defenses men used when accused of rape by women in the last thirty years:
- She was wearing revealing clothing
- She was in his room late at night
- She was in his room alone
- She was using birth control
- She wore makeup
- She was sexually active with other men
- She wore a short skirt
- She willingly took legal or illegal drugs that impaired her judgement and physical coordination
- She asked him to wear a condom
- She asked him not to penetrate her vaginally
- She asked him not to penetrate her anally
- She asked him not to ejaculate inside her
- She did not physically fight her attacker
- She had an orgasm
- She didn’t tell anyone about the attack
- She showed no signs of bruising
- She never explicitly said ‘no’.
These defenses are still used today with limited success and women have opted out of a justice system that is incapable of protecting them from harm. The allegations facing Bill Cosby may be true. He may have raped one of these women, all of these women or some other combination thereof. We will never know the truth in this case. What is clear to me is that even today when a woman walks into a room she is a target of sexual violence. It is permissible to harass her when she walks down the street. We can ply her with drugs or alcohol until she says ‘yes’ or loses the ability to consent altogether. And we can make a bevy of excuses as to why she ‘wanted’ it.
It does not change what happened. Unless she says ‘yes’, it is rape.