Almost a week after New York Magazine published its powerful cover story of 35 of Bill Cosby’s alleged victims telling their story, Cosby’s lawyer, Monique Pressley was on Huff Post Live doing damage control insisting that these allegations were nothing more than a witch hunt. Pressley, who is also a Black woman, went as far to say that victim blaming is nothing more than a “hashtag” and that it’s a woman’s responsibility to speak up about her rape when it happens “if they were really raped.”
She told Marc Lamont-Hill, “Women have responsibility. We have responsibility for our bodies, we have responsibility for our decisions, we have responsibilities for the ways we conduct ourselves… I’m not talking about these women; I’m saying all women have responsibility… If a woman is violated by a man, and does not report, for whatever reason… in a court of law, the entire situation will never be brought forward for purposes of justice.”
Now it’s expected that a lawyer would do and say anything to protect their client, but Pressley’s reasoning here is manipulative, tone deaf and just plain wrong. Rape is never about a woman’s actions, it’s about a man’s. So reporting or not reporting has nothing to do with a rapist’s guilt. If you were raped, you were raped, end of story.
And yes, I am fully aware the only way to seek legal justice is to come forward, but if we are going to critique women’s actions, then let’s at least actually break down how and why it’s so difficult for women to speak out.
In Cosby’s case, he is one of the most respected and wealthiest Black men in the U.S., let alone the world. He is a cultural icon that forever changed the way that African-American families are imagined in pop culture. His power and prestige made him untouchable, so much so that, in a world that has spent generations unfairly labeling Black men “Brutal Black Bucks” (Black men who are out to rape white women), Cosby was immune to that characterization, despite the fact that most of his alleged victims were white.
And so, to hear Pressley flippantly allude that these women should have just spoken up when it happened makes my stomach turn. After being drugged, raped and manipulated, these women are not allowed to be terrified? They are somehow responsible for their bodies, themselves and the justice system?
But you don’t have to be raped by a rich and powerful man to be afraid to speak out. Whether your rapist is the boy next door or that guy you thought was your friend or even your boyfriend, reporting an assault is extremely difficult. And every victim has their own complicated reaction to this type of trauma.
For an estimated 68 percent, the response is to say nothing. But when the other 32 percent do say something, they are often met with God awful treatment.
We have seen communities vilify victims, going as far as blaming an 11-year-old for her own gang rape or burning a victim’s house down. We have seen girls drop out of college, be raked through the press as “gold diggers” or “wanting to bring a Black man down.” We’ve seen women accused of being “sluts who had sex they regretted” or being “fast and deserving it.” We’ve seen women of color be told that they cannot be victims, because we’re “innately” oversexed. We’ve also seen victims kill themselves because they can’t take the backlash anymore.
Meanwhile, major news outlets and communities empathize with the perpetrators.
We’ve also heard horror stories of how the police deal with victims, repeatedly asking “Are you sure it was rape? Or “What were you wearing that night?” Then there are the mind-numbing reports about the hundreds of thousands of rape kits in cities like Robbins, Illinois, Detroit and Memphis that just sat in evidence rooms for decades, never having been tested. Or those pesky statutes of limitations or the fact that it’s estimated that only a measly 2-3 percent of accused rapists actually see any jail time.
So if people like Pressley are really so concerned with “empowering” women to come forward, instead of running to the defense of a billionaire alleged rapist, try helping create a better system that actually works for and supports female victims. You know, one that creates real incentive for victims to come forward. Until that happens, survivors don’t owe society or themselves anything.
It’s actually men that owe us not to rape.
Follow Kellee on Twitter @kelleent
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(Photo: New York Magazine; July 27-August 9, 2015)
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