Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Bill Cosby, Rape, and Victim Blaming

Trigger warning.

I know this is not what I normally write about, but I feel like that girl from Mean Girls who doesn't even go here and just has a lot of feelings. I want to yell at someone, but I don't know who. I want to kick something, but I don't know what. I want to change things, but I don't know how. I guess the next best thing is to write a blog post that 9 people might see.

If you haven't heard about the rape and sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, go google it and read up on the subject before reading this post. Also tell me where exactly the hole is that you live in. I want to come visit.

I was never a fan of Cosby, so this is not a "fall from grace" situation for me. I had no opinion of the man. I was too young to enjoy The Cosby Show and I may have seen a few minutes of his stand up in high school. I've always known who he was, of course, but I knew him as the Jell-O guy as a kid more than anything else, so it's not that I had a personal investment in the man. That does not make the current news easy to deal with.

Nor am I a victim of rape or sexual assault. I can't imagine what these (so far) 15 women went through and their experiences do not illicit some horrible memory from my own past experiences. That does not make the current news easy to deal with.

I am, however, a woman. A citizen in a society that is rampant with rape culture. Not only does sexual assault happen every day (every 2 seconds in the US, to be exact), it is normalized and victims are blamed for what happened to them.

"What was she wearing?" is victim blaming.

"How much was she drinking?" is victim blaming.

"It was oral? Why didn't she use her teeth?" is victim blaming.

"Why was she in a bad neighborhood?" is victim blaming.

"If he wasn't armed, why didn't she try to run away?" is victim blaming.

"Why didn't she try to fight back?" is victim blaming.

These questions are absolutely, 100% irrelevant to the conversation. If you ask what she was wearing, you immediately imply that if she had been wearing something else, she wouldn't have been raped. If you ask how much she was drinking, you immediately imply she wouldn't have been raped if she wasn't drinking. If you wonder why she didn't fight back you immediately imply that she either wanted to have sex and is lying about being raped (more on that later) or she wouldn't have been raped if she had just tried harder not to be raped.

Let's think about those last few words for a moment. "Try harder not to be raped." That's essentially what you are saying when you ask one of those questions, yet how much sense does it make? Rapists are going to rape and rapists are the only ones who are responsible for rape. End of discussion. I could walk naked down the street in a horrible neighborhood while drunk, and if there aren't any rapists around, I WON'T GET RAPED.

To illustrate how ridiculous these questions are, I'm going to quote “The Legal Bias Against Rape Victims (The Rape of Mr. Smith)” by Connie K. Borkenhagen from the American Bar Association Journal. Keep in mind this was published in 1975, 40 years ago, and we are still dealing with this exact same thing. 

“Mr. Smith, you were held up at gunpoint on the corner of First and Main?” 
“Did you struggle with the robber?” 
“Why not?” 
“He was armed.”
“Then you made a conscious decision to comply with his demands rather than resist?” 
“Did you scream? Cry out?” 
“No, I was afraid.” 
“I see. Have you ever been held up before?” 
“Have you ever GIVEN money away?” 
“Yes, of course.” 
“And you did so willingly?” 
“What are you getting at?” 
“Well, let’s put it like this, Mr. Smith. You’ve given money away in the past. In fact, you have quite a reputation for philanthropy. How can we be sure that you weren’t CONTRIVING to have your money taken from you by force?” 
“Listen, if I wanted –” 
“Never mind. What time did this holdup take place, Mr. Smith?” 
“About 11:00 P.M.” 
“You were out on the street at 11:00 P.M.? Doing what?” 
“Just walking.” 
“Just walking? You know that it’s dangerous being out on the street that late at night. Weren’t you aware that you could have been held up?” 
“I hadn’t thought about it.” 
“What were you wearing at the time, Mr. Smith?” 
“Let’s see…a suit. Yes, a suit.” 
“An EXPENSIVE suit?” 
“Well yes. I’m a successful lawyer, you know.” 
“In other words, Mr. Smith, you were walking around the streets late at night in a suit that practically advertised the fact that you might be good target for some easy money, isn’t that so? I mean, if we didn’t know better, Mr. Smith, we might even think that you were asking for this to happen, mightn’t we?”

Ridiculous, right? So why is it not ridiculous to ask the same or similar questions about someone who was raped? 

And what about the big cases involving well-known men like the current one with Cosby? Saying that "she just wants her 15 minutes of fame" or "she's after a piece of the settlement" is more than likely not true and unfair to say about someone who might be (and probably is) the victim of sexual assault. 

Of course statistics on how often women lie about rape are hard to pin down, but the US Justice Department puts false rape accusations at about 2% and most other sources I looked at say somewhere between 2 and 8 percent. Meaning if you assume a woman is lying about a rape allegation, you will be wrong between 92 and 98 percent of the time. Granted, that also means that if you assume a women is not lying, you will be wrong between 2 and 8 percent of the time, but I like those odds a lot better, personally. If I was truly unbiased, I wouldn't assume anything, but I'm not, so I can't. Until rape isn't so prevalent in our society that women get free rape whistles in college and they hand out tests to see if your drink has been drugged, I probably can't be unbiased. 

While I have seen everything above said about the 15 women accusing Cosby (and any woman who makes the news accusing someone of rape), the one I see the most is, "if it was true, why didn't they come forward years ago?" First of all, some did. It's only hitting the media now because Cosby's lawyers and PR reps have worked very hard to keep this under wraps. Second, why would they? What incentive is there for someone to come forward? Let's break it down.

According to a variety of sources (including RAINN, the FBI, and the DOJ), out of 100 rapes, only 40 get reported to the police. 10 lead to an arrest, 8 lead to a prosecution, 4 are convicted of a felony, and 3 will spend time in prison.

So, if I am raped and I decide to go to the police, there is a 7.5% chance my rapist will go to prison. That's only after an often traumatizing criminal trial where a defense attorney will try to discredit me by any means.

If the media picks up on it, I will be called horrifying names and accused of lying, gold digging, and attention seeking. If I am accusing a likable person in the community, someone who has a promising football/college/whatever career ahead of them or someone famous, I will be asked why I am trying to ruin this person's career, life, or future prospects. I will be accused of wearing a skirt that is too short, of drinking too much, of acting like a tease, of not fighting back. Basically, I will be accused of bringing this on myself.

I ask again, what incentive is there for a victim to come forward about a rape?

Want to know one thing that will make it easier? Stop victim blaming. Stop assuming the accuser either is lying or brought it on herself. Stop calling her names. If you can't stop thinking those things, then just stop writing them online or saying them out loud.

We have made progress. Since 1993, rape has fallen by a bit more than 50%. That's great, but it's not enough. 1 out of 6 women are still victims of rape or attempted rape. Meaning in all likelihood, you know someone who has been sexually assaulted. Victim blaming only discourages people from coming forward if it happens to them.

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