Sexual Assault Allegations of Bill Cosby Reinforces Stigma (Opinion)

billcosby

by NAOMI HARRIS

This past week, sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby have reignited after nearly a decade of women coming forward and telling their stories. With recent changes to Maryland’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures along with increased reports of sexual offenses, the topic of sexual assault has not gone away. Instead in the case of Bill Cosby, the stigma of sexual assault is seen even clearer.

“A girlfriend took me to a lawyer, but he accused me of making the story up,” stated Barbara Bowman in her editorial piece to the public titled, “Billy Cosby Raped Me. Why Did It Take 13 Years For People to Believe My Story?”

Bowman, who was an 18-year-old actress at the time of the assaults, continues her story saying that four years later she was laughed at by a lawyer after requesting to discuss legal action.

It is hard enough for victims to report abuse but experiencing disbelief from others showcases the stigma we have in America when it comes to sexual assault allegations.

“While I am grateful for the new attention to Cosby’s crimes, I must ask my own questions,” Bowman said in the article, “Why wasn’t I believed? Why didn’t I get the same reaction of shock and revulsion when I originally reported it?”

Her questions raise a controversial point. What is necessary for someone’s story to be taken seriously? If the response to allegations is more traumatic than the actual act, then doesn’t that say something about how we treat sexual assault?

“His M.O. is the same,” said Joan Tarshis,  the fifth woman to publicly accuse Cosby of assault. “He works with people, he gets you into a position where you think you’re going to work with him, and then he drugs you and rapes you.”

Cosby was officially accused of rape in 2005 by Andrea Constand but due to lack of evidence, the case was dropped. Constand later filed for a civil suit against Cosby and 13 Jane Doe witnesses were ready to testify with very similar stories, according to CNN.

But, nothing happened.

Why does it take so long for the voices of potential sexual assault victims to be heard?

This past year, the issue gained even more attention through Obama’s launch of the “It’s On Us” preventive sexual violence campaign and an investigation of 80 college campuses. Universities, including the University of Maryland, have revised their sexual misconduct policies and there has been an increase of sex offenses.

According to University of Maryland’s police department, 19 sexual offenses were reported last year in comparison to nine in 2012 or four in 2011.

It is obvious that the University wants to continue campaigning against sexual assault or misconduct but the American public too, must work harder.

Voices of sexual assault victims should and must be taken seriously. The stigma of being assaulted in such a personal and traumatizing way needs to be removed. Our reactions to sexual crimes also should be reevaluated along with all these new policies.

Does it really take nearly ten years of several allegations and a reference by a man to refuel cases against Cosby? He may very well be innocent but the issue still remains of why does it take this long?

Cross examinations in sexual assault cases can make the victim relive the entire traumatic event all over again. The question of, “What were you wearing?” and the overall idea of victim blaming is still very prevalent. This Buzzfeed article showcases how, regardless of what a woman or man was wearing, many times it is not what people perceive to be when they say victims were “asking for it.”

How do we handle sexual assault? And what can we do to change it?

Maybe those thirteen women prepared to testify against Cosby could have done so on each separate occasion if such stigma was not in place, and maybe it would not take nine years for a response.

A response Cosby has yet to give.

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