A&E’s Cosby: The Women Speak special aired tonight, giving 12 of the more than 50 women who comedian Bill Cosby “allegedly” assaulted the chance to tell their stories. Their voices — though filled with raw emotion — were strong and their message was clear: The silence ends now.
Was listening to the intimate accounts of Cosby’s assault on these women difficult? Absolutely. But as gut-wrenching as it was to watch, it was just as important to do so. As one victim, supermodel Beverly Johnson, said, “We deserve for our voices to be heard.” For more than four decades, these women have been stifled. They have been brushed under the rug. It took unthinkable courage for them to keep fighting to have their truths heard and, as a woman, I am in awe of them.
After all, the discomfort I felt for the hour I watched the show pales in comparison to the pain, shame and fear of judgment these women have lived with for years. Bill Cosby — a man prominently featured in the media as a cultural icon, an American hero — was their cross to bear.
My heart hurts for them.
It seems unfathomable that any woman hearing these vivid accounts spanning decade after decade could deny the veracity of the victims. Which is perhaps why I was nearly as shocked by women’s reactions to the special on social media as I was by the special itself.
It wasn’t just disbelief showing up on my feed. It was bullying. It was victim-shaming. It was bitter vitriol rising like bile in the back of the throat.
This #cosbywomenspeak show is a bunch of blasphemy. The women waited damn near 40yrs to say something. Gtfo
— Ty$ (@__Tyyyy) September 18, 2015
#cosbywomenspeak if u "assault" me once not going out with you again!!! Ijs. Not saying he's right…but u got to have some common sense.
— Toy (@BrownEyezMSN) September 18, 2015
This is crap. Doing the 60's if they said a black man raped white women he would be in jail. Y'all crazy as hell. #CosbyWomenspeak
— KECIA WHITE (@DIVASNOWWHITE) September 18, 2015
#cosbywomenspeak Some women went back for seconds. Why?
— 🇨🇦NaughtyMe (@idna_m) September 18, 2015
Cosby is on his way OUT what do you guys want from him? #CosbyWomenSpeak
— Deva T. (@_DeeVah) September 18, 2015
Bill was not convicted of rape. If u don't say anything, no1 will know. Don't get mad if later u get side eyed. #CosbyWomenSpeak
— Amber (@AmberTBurton) September 18, 2015
My reaction to comments of this kind is visceral — I get a pit in my gut. How, and I mean how, is this your reaction to more than 50 brave women baring their bruised souls for the world to see? How is this your reaction to the byproduct of a patriarchal society in which women were conditioned to believe they were commodities and that their word was worth less than face value?
Fact: Bill Cosby has admitted to giving Quaaludes to women during extramarital sexual affairs. Fact: Bill Cosby had an MO. While these women had not conferred with each other prior to coming forward, their stories are all eerily similar. Fact: These allegations stretch as far back as the ’60s. Fact: There are still women out there who haven’t come forward. Cosby’s costar, Joseph Phillips, says that he doubted the accusers until a close friend confided in him that it had happened to her, too. She has yet to come forward.
More: Bill Cosby’s lawyer claims she isn’t victim-blaming, but she is (VIDEO)
As for the women who feel the delay in coming forward speaks to some lack of credibility on the victims’ part, I suggest they spend some time speaking with sexual assault and domestic violence advocates. Maybe it’ll sink in that rape is the most underreported crime, as survivors are often met with derision when they do come forward. Think about this for a moment: Sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police. And of the cases that are reported, false reports are extremely low.
Or perhaps they should watch this special one more time. Then maybe they’ll pick up on the fact that Barbara Bowman told a friend about her assault in the ’80s. In 1985, she walked into a lawyer’s office and was laughed out the door.
Or that in 2005, former Temple University employee Andrea Constand contended that Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her. Cosby admitted he gave her the “three little blue pills” she described, but he claimed they were Benadryl. Thirteen other women came forward — including Bowman and several of the victims who are now speaking out — and offered to back Constand. But in 2006, before any of those women could testify, Cosby settled out of court with Constand for an undisclosed amount. Per the suit, Constand agreed never to discuss her allegations again.
So why, dear women, do we keep having the same conversation over and over again? Why is our first instinct to doubt each other and breed animosity, rather than to lift each other up? It shouldn’t have taken an off-color comedy sketch by a man for people to even entertain the notion that these victims were telling the truth — especially when it comes to other women.
Because, friends, there is something profoundly wrong with the world in which we live when a victim of sexual assault comes forward only to have a passing woman drive by, spit on her and call her a liar.
We should be each other’s greatest champions. When 50 of our sisters stand up and say, “I’ve been wronged,” we should collectively seek to make it right. We should grab them by the hands, walk alongside them in silence and celebrate their voices.
And, when we think we have nothing to offer to aid in their fight, we should simply say, “I believe you.”