The Impossible Standard of Believability for Cosby Rape Survivors
Following a ruling from a judge in Montgomery County, PA, 78-year-old Bill Cosby will now stand trial for sexual assault—11 years after survivor Andrea Constand first pressed charges against the entertainer.
The case, made particularly infamous due to the overwhelming number of women who allege sexual attacks from Cosby, has taken a turn since the release of his depositions last July. The claims of these survivors appear to have been confirmed by Cosby, in his own words, openly admitting to administering quaaludes to women for the sole purpose of having sex with them (raping them), as well as acknowledgment of the illegality of his actions. The most recent admission centers on statutory rape; Cosby willingly admits to having a 17-year-old perform a sex act on him.
But now that it has been made crystal clear that Bill Cosby is indeed a sexual predator (and not, for example, being ‘set up’ in retaliation to his attempt to “buy NBC”) the danger of having justice rely so heavily on the admission of a rapist must be confronted. While the long span of time between the occurrence of the alleged rapes and initiation of legal proceedings complicate this particular case, the rarity of a situation in which a rapist would verbally avow their assaults cannot be understated—especially while rape culture allows individuals to narrow the class of “acceptable” victims to those who are sober, conservatively dressed, and, in some sick minds, unmarried. Put in a different way, rapists just don’t go around professing “Yes I had sex with her knowing for certain she was underage” or “ Of course I date raped her”. But this rare instance of fate is what it took to both convince a court of law that where there is smoke, there is fire, and that the over 40 survivors who stepped forward were indeed telling us about real flames.
And while Cosby’s lawyers continue to emphasize the low standard of evidence that allowed the trial to proceed, I wonder: how can a man’s willing admission of drugging and rape under the pretext of being shielded from prosecution and shame not warrant a trial?
There are dozens of women around the country who have identified themselves as survivors of Cosby’s assaults, and as New York Magazine’s bold July issue reminded us, there could be more. However under the statute of limitations, only Constand can pursue legal recourse. The mere suggestion that she and her team of lawyers are receiving an unfair advantage in this trial is insulting, but more importantly dead wrong.
“She was an alcoholic!”
“She had a drug problem!”
“They can’t be trusted!”
“They’re all liars!”
These women, who became the focal point of both public shaming and tasteless jokes from an array of comedians, including fellow problematic TV dad Damon Wayans, had their character, personal lives and deep struggles skewered in hopes that the possibility of justice would arise from it. Even Constand, a University sports administrator whose background was relatively free of scandal, was (and still is) portrayed as a woman who simply cannot be believed. And in a country where 68 percent of rapes don’t even get reported, we are all but ensuring that number increases in the years to come.
Making the standard of believability any higher than it currently is would be akin to telling rape survivors, especially those who are female-identifying, that rape does not deserve to be treated as a real crime. Maybe that’s what our system has been doing all along.
Image via Wiki Commons