Monday, November 24, 2014

Cos Cé·lè·bre

cause célèbre - noun  - a controversial issue that attracts a great deal of public attention

"Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches," Hanibal Buress shouted in an on-line video. "I've done this bit on stage and people think I'm making it up.... when you leave here, Google 'Bill Cosby rape.' That sh** has more results than 'Hannibal Buress.”

I was scrolling through my Facebook page when this video hit me square in the face.  It was an accusation that I had heard before - 10 years ago during a lawsuit that had been settled out of court but the vehemence that this young man had towards Bill Cosby struck me.  Bill Cosby – Heathcliff Huxtable – America’s Dad in the 1980’s being accused of a horrible crime.  It caught my attention and it sickened me.  I prayed it wasn’t true and then in short order new women started to come forward one after another:  same and different details – a wide range of locations – hotel rooms, green rooms of The Tonight Show, her apartment, his bungalow – pills that immobilized the victims and made them unable to fight back or Cosby intimidated them by telling them he would ruin them if they ever told anyone.   
Still, I tried to keep it out of my mind because it was just too awful to grasp and I didn’t want to believe it.  Then in 2014 a gunman opened fire at the Strozier Library at FSU – my alma mater and images of my old college came flooding back.  In the same news thread – more troubling news about Cosby.  I tried to make sense of it and then in the hour commute to work it all hit me – Florida State – 1986 – a night when I got drunk and a male friend tried to help me by taking me home.  But instead he raped me.
The DJs on the car radio talked about Cosby on their celebrity buzz segments – additional accusations – again similar circumstances – he overpowered them and they were not able to defend themselves.  They felt guilty and powerless after it happened - wondering if it was their fault because they said something that gave the wrong impression, drank too much or were drugged.  They did not report it because they felt like no one would believe them or they didn’t want people delving into the past to make them out to be a slut so they went on pretending that nothing happened for years that eventually turned into decades.
I knew what it felt like - like a part of you was yanked away violently.  Your sense of personal security gone because you trusted the wrong person.  That’s how I felt when my “friend” Greg offered to help me.  
My terrible night started as a way to celebrate graduation for the people at the seafood restaurant  who had completed their degrees.   My favorite drink at the time was a madras – which was vodka with cranberry and orange juice.  Bill the bartender suggested doing Rumple Minze shots which I had never tried - but it was a celebration so why not?   Some of the shots were Rumple Minze and some were tequila - he just never said which.  After about three or four shots and a couple of madras’ I was very drunk and in no condition to drive home so when one of the cooks named Greg offered to drive me home – I accepted.   But we stopped at his place first.  I felt sick and threw up in his bathroom.  He offered to help me freshen up in his shower and then proceeded to assault me in the shower then in his living room where I proceeded to throw up again on his carpet (obviously a vomiting woman was not going to stop him).   Finally, I managed to get my clothes back on and he dropped me back at my apartment.  At that point, he asked if I was alright.  I told him I could go in by myself and he left.  I took another shower and cried.  I went to bed and cried.  I tried to eat breakfast and cried.  
I pulled it together later in the day and asked my sister to help drop me off at work so I could get my car.  The people who worked at the restaurant  thought nothing of it because I was pretty drunk the last time they saw me and of course my car was still there because I had gotten a ride home.   A few days later, Greg and I were working on the same shift and he asked me if I was okay because I seemed a little freaked out that night.  I mumbled I was fine.   I never reported it to police because who would believe me?  It was a classic he said/she said situation and I was drunk and so many of the details were hazy. 
Greg was also black so the whole date rape thing took on a whole new level that I was not ready to deal with.  If this went public, I did not want to be the cause célèbre for a bunch of North Florida bigots who were looking for any reason to stir up racial tension.  I could not bare the thought of innocent people getting hurt because of a racist vendetta.

I told my boyfriend at the time who initially didn’t believe me - then did and of course wanted to kill the guy.  When we broke up a year later, it took time for me to trust being with someone again.  Oddly enough I was grateful that it happened when I was drunk because I never got that drunk again and knowing that as long as I was sober I could defend myself.   I realize now that false sense of security was very native. 
So the Cosby scandal hit home.  It made me mad – it made me feel disillusioned because of course those women would trust him.   He’s Bill freaking Cosby!  How could the guy who created Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids do that?  Many people in their mid to late 30’s claim that Cliff Huxtable was like their second father.  I remember waiting tables on Thursday nights and when the crowd died around 7:30 p.m.  you knew it was because families wanted to get home in time to watch The Cosby Show. 
Still, that lawsuit from 2006 got some traction but it did not seem to do him in then?  Why?  That lawsuit was settled out of court  by Andrea Constand, 32, a former Temple University employee who claimed Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in his Philadelphia-area mansion in 2004.  Constand even had 10 other women who claimed similar experiences with Cosby.  Constand has been silent based on her settlement, but the other women who were named as Jane Doe's in her lawsuit are finally feeling that there is strength in numbers and are telling their stories and are finally being believed.
I think our society really has changed," says Tamra Wade, a data analyst who now mentors young assault victims who herself was attacked by a college professor in a class room a decade ago. "Ten years ago, it was much harder for a victim to get an audience listening to her. Now there's less of a stigma, and that gives people more confidence to come forward."
Let’s hope so because here’s a sad reality - one in four women in this country will be a victim of sexual abuse in their lifetime.   According to the  U.S. Department of Justice, just 40% of the women that have experienced a sexual assault will report it.  From there, approximately 5% of the time, a man who rapes ends up in prison - so 95% of the time he does not.   Why go through all the pain of reliving what happened and having the other side try to make it out as something you wanted if the chances of your attacker going to jail are very slim?  It's a truth that victims of this sort of crime understand all too well.   
Of course the denials from the Cosby camp keep coming because it’s defense lawyers and that’s what they do - protect the rich and discredit those that might be a threat.  According to Cosby’s attorney Martin Singer: "The new, never-before-heard claims from women who have come forward in the past two weeks with unsubstantiated, fantastical stories about things they say occurred 30, 40, or even 50 years ago have escalated far past the point of absurdity," he said. “These brand new claims about alleged decades-old events are becoming increasingly ridiculous, and it is completely illogical that so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years."
Okay Mr. Singer, do you want to know why we stay quiet for one year, two years, five years, 10 years and decades at a time?  Because it’s people like you that try to make us feel like we are the lesser - that we consented - that we wanted this.  You’ll never know what it’s like to keep quiet because you were afraid of being judged - labeled a slut or a whore because of what happened.  Men can be sexually active and they are studs- women are considered whores if they have sex with more than one person - it’s just that simple.   I reiterate that one in four women in this country will experience some type of sexual assault in their life time.  I sure as hell hope you don’t have four daughters because the law of averages is not on their side.  What would you say if your daughter told you she was raped in college a few years ago.  Would you tell her she was illogical for doing nothing - would you ask her if there was any chance that she consented?  Would you hope to God that the attacker was lawyered up so his ass is protected?  No, you would probably want to punch the shit of out of the asshole that did that to your daughter.  Worse you would look at her differently.  That’s a big reason why I could not say anything while my father was still alive because I didn’t want him to see me as a victim and I knew it would hurt him down to his core - so you protect the people you love by not saying anything.  I pray you and your family never feel that pain.
Now however, there is a public conversation about believing the women in the
Cosby case in a way they wouldn’t have 10 years ago.  While the legal team has accused the media towards bias in the publishing the accusers allegations, a comprehensive article in the Washington Post claimed that “the allegations are strung together by perceptible patterns that appear and reappear with remarkable consistency: mostly young, white women without family nearby; drugs offered as palliatives; resistance and pursuit; accusers worrying that no one would believe them; lifelong trauma.  There is also a pattern of intense response by Cosby’s team of attorneys and publicists, who have used the media and the courts to attack the credibility of his accusers." 
One of the things that helped me heal is the words of another celebrity - Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story.  When Katherine Hepburn’s character gets drunk - Jimmy Stewart takes her up to her room and does nothing.  When she asks why he didn’t take advantage of her, he replies - “You were extremely attractive, and as for distant and forbidding, on the contrary. But you also were a little the worse - or the better - for wine, and there are rules about that.”  With that one line from a 1940 movie, Jimmy Stewart explained that men should know the rules and that he chose to follow them.  It’s called giving consent and if a woman is not in any condition to give consent, it’s rape - plain and simple.  It made me feel better and in time I was able to forgive my attacker and move on. 
When Robin Williams died, there was an intense interest in his work and one scene they were playing constantly was the one from Good Will Hunting in which William’s psychiatrist tries to break through to the Matt Damon character who was abused by repeatedly telling him “It’s not your fault.”  Damon’s character tries to shake it off and agrees but after repeatedly being told by Williams, “It’s not your fault,” he breaks down and finally accepts it.  That’s a mantra I think all people who have been abused need to hear - “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT!!” Intellectually you know it, but until you can say “It was not my fault.  I did nothing to deserve this! IT WAS NOT MY FAULT!!” and really mean it you will have a very hard time forgiving yourself for not saying anything.  

Ironically, this new interest in Bill Cosby’s sexual misconduct seems to be to have been sparked more by Hannibal Buress’ remarks and not the accusations of the 10 women ten years ago.  It took one man calling out the other to shake all of us out of that Cosby complacency to start to see the real issue.  The reality is that we live in a male dominated society and we need men to use their male privilege to call out sexual predators.   We need to define rape in sex education classes for pre-teen boys and make it very clear where the line of demarcation is between consent and assault.  Girls need to be told how to protect themselves and that there is safety in numbers.  Boys need to see girls as equals and to respect them enough to put the bro-code on the line if they think a girl is being abused at the hands of another guy.   One example of this an ex-NBC male staffer Frank Scotti who told the New York Daily News that he sent money orders for thousands of dollars to numerous women on Cosby's behalf and was there when Cosby invited models to his dressing room. "He would tell me to keep the women in there, don't let anybody in, and it was very obvious what was going on," said Scotti who is now 90.  He eventually quit working for Cosby because of the situation.  
Only time will tell if Mr. Cosby will see any legal ramifications for these accusations.  But the court of public opinion seems to be turning.  On the November 22nd episode of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, anchor Michael Che commented, “I don't know Bill Cosby, but Cliff Huxtable practically raised me. I love that dude. And the only thing he ever tried to sneak when people were asleep was a hoagie. So while I’ll never forgive Bill Cosby, hopefully someday I can forgive Dr. Huxtable.”  
If you are a victim of a sexual assault, I can tell you that time will help heal and you will find someone who will love you and who you will trust.  It will take time to feel comfortable having sex again.  But I can tell you 28 years out from my attack that I don’t think about it very much because I’m lucky that I have a husband who makes me feel safe and I know I’m loved.  But for better or worse, it's a part of me now and I have to see that it's helped make me who I am today.  I have two daughters and I will do everything I can to protect them but if the unthinkable does happen - I will believe them, love them and make sure they don't feel ashamed.  For victims of sexual assault, sometimes forgiving yourself and your attacker is the greatest gift of all.  I hope we can all find the strength to do it.  I know I have. 


  1. Kelley, thank you for sharing your story ... a story shared by too many girls and women. I was 13 when I was "date" raped. I did not feel there was anyone I could turn to at the time time. Years later, it took a lot of very good therapy and a lot of healthy love to put that experience firmly in my past.

  2. Jan - so sorry that happened to you - it boggles my mind that this happens so often. I'm glad we're both stronger for it.

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