What To Keep In Mind While Celebrating The Bill Cosby Verdict
Bill Cosby was found guilty of three assault charges this week, a verdict that could put him in prison for 30 years. Allies of survivors and many of the survivors themselves rejoiced at hearing the guilty verdict for a man that inflicted decades of abuse against so many women, 60 women that reported to be exact. And since sexual assault is a deeply underreported crime I assume there are other silent survivors that were unable to come forward.
The strength it took for those women to come forward, tell their stories knowing they would be doubted, and ultimately testify against a public icon is incredible. Journalist Maria Bustillos wrote that survivor Andrea Constand “had every detail of her assault picked over and questioned in a courtroom — twice. Actress Lachele Covington, Cosby’s first accuser, was treated abominably in 2000. Countless women, young girls and more watched as people brave enough to come forward and take on a powerful man were called liars, con artists and worse. “Look what happens when you tell the truth and are brave, you don't have to fail or be humiliated,” Bustillos says we can now tell our children. “You can seek justice, and you can win it.”
It is hard not to celebrate that justice was served. With all the amazing survivors coming forward in the #metoo era the message is changing. Sexual assault survivors are being heard and believed.
But as an advocate working with sexual assault and dating violence survivors I cannot help but think of all the people who will never be heard. And how many women it took to bring light to this case. During this sexual assault awareness month (SAAM), I want to talk about more than just looking for guilty verdicts but examine what got us to this point in the first place. What culture have we created that it took 60 women, decades of reports, and still such strong denial of his actions? Now that we have this watershed moment how do we move forward in the conversation? This cannot be the end.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center phrase for this SAAM is “embrace your voice.” Not only do we have to embrace the voices of survivors and believe their stories but we all must embrace our own voices as allies to stand up for those who are doubted. Continuing to look at these incidences as isolated events perpetrated by some crazy person ignores our role in rape culture. Author Emilie Buchwald describes rape culture as, “a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . . In a rape culture, both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable . . . However . . . much of what we accept as inevitable is, in fact, the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”
Many bristle at the definition in a move of defensiveness. Just because we know we would never carry out these violent actions personally does not mean we do not support movies, music, or even the actions of our friends. Examining our personal and societal relationship to things like pornography and demeaning jokes that belittle violence against women. This is hard for everyone, myself included, to grapple with. But we should. No, we must. The lives of future victims depend on our actions right now in this moment where the world is listening. It is up to us how we will use it.
So, what now? How do we do this? What moves us forward? Well, I am glad you asked because there are many places to start depending on what feels right for you.
Involvement comes in many forms and looks different for everyone.
For the people who just want the facts, here a few good places to start learning about the problem:
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- The World Health Organization
If you’re an avid reader and like learning in this way, here are a few of suggestions to get you started:
- Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (One of the first books I read about feminism that made me really examine the world around me!)
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Gay perfectly combines humor and reality.)
- Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks (This is a classic. Just read it.)
- We Should all be feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (This is short & sweet for a quick read.)
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (This classical literature short story published in 1892 is timeless.)
If you’re more of a short video, Ted Talk type of person I also have you covered:
- Why Gender Equality is Good for Everyone – Men Included by Michael Kimmel
- Violence Against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue by Jackson Katz
- A Call to Men – Tony Porter
- We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Why Domestic Violence Victims Don’t Leave by Leslie Morgan Steiner
As we celebrate the stories of survivors being believed in the Cosby case we must ask ourselves how to create a world where we do not need 60 plus women, decades of abuse, and cover-ups, to make a change.
Embrace your voice. The power of speaking up and challenging the status quo, even in seemingly small ways, should never be underestimated. If nothing else use your voice to say, “I believe you” when you hear a survivor’s story. Just that is an act of solidarity and a step forward.