[Strong trigger warnings for rape]
Jesus. This again.
Recently, in a comedy routine, stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress brought up a fact that has largely been ignored over the past eight years: that Bill Cosby has been accused of drugging and raping multiple women. Arguably, lots of women, depending on your definition of “lots.” When former Temple University employee Andrea Constand sued him in 2005, alleging that Cosby had drugged and raped her, her lawyer promised depositions from 13 women who claimed to have been similarly assaulted. That list never came to light, as the case was settled out of court, but some of the women went public with their stories anyway.
Since Buress’s routine, more women have come forward with rape allegations (bringing the total number of named, public accusers to six, as of this writing), among them publicist and journalist Joan Tarshis, who met Cosby in 1969, when she was 19 years old. A young writer, she’d come to Los Angeles to work on a monologue with Godfrey Cambridge, and when she was introduced to and given the chance to write with Cosby, she was elated. She had no reason not to be, because she didn’t know. Joan Tarshis tells the story of two encounters in 1969 — and it’s the fact that it was two separate occasions, and not just one, that has some people bringing up that familiar, reprehensible speculation that of course she brought it on herself, or else she’s lying.
“One day he asked me to stay after the shooting and work on some material with him. I was even more flattered and thought this would help move my writing career along. In his bungalow he made me a redeye, and I began to tell him about the earthquake Los Angeles had just had and the sound it made. He liked my ideas for an earthquake bit.
“The next thing I remember was coming to on his couch while being undressed. Through the haze I thought I was being clever when I told him I had an infection and he would catch it and his wife would know he had sex with someone. But he just found another orifice to use. I was sickened by what was happening to me and shocked that this man I had idolized was now raping me. Of course I told no one.
Normally, most people — the ones who aren’t completely trapped in the classic “he’s a beloved TV dad and thus couldn’t possibly have done such a thing, how dare you even consider it” delusion, anyway — would acknowledge that, if the allegations are true, what Cosby did was reprehensible and definitely, unquestioningly rape. And yet some people manage to not feel that way, to hedge, to cast doubts upon Tarshis’s story, because she says Cosby raped her twice.
“Back home with my parents, my mother kept bringing his name up as a source of pride. Cosby was very hot then with his first sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show, and she was proud that her daughter had written with him. So the day that he called, she answered the phone and he told her he was inviting me to The Westbury Music Theater. I was repulsed by the thought of seeing him again, but I saw no way out. I couldn’t tell my mother what he had done. Or what I had let happen, feeling the guilt that rape victims often feel.
“He sent a limo to pick me up and I was dropped off at the Sherry Netherland Hotel and went up to his suite. I remember noticing that his leather shaving kit was filled with bottles of pills, and thinking that this seemed odd. He was, of course, very friendly and I, of course, was very uncomfortable. He made me a redeye, and I, being nervous and dealing at the time with an alcohol problem (I’ve been in recovery since 1988), drank it. In the car I had something else to drink, but was already beginning to feel a bit stoned.
“When we got to Westbury and he went on, there was no seat for me. I stood in the back of the theater with his chauffeur, feeling insulted that I wasn’t respected enough to be given a reserved seat. But soon after, I remember feeling very, very stoned and asking his chauffeur to take me back to the car. I was having trouble standing up. The next thing I remember was waking up in his bed back at the Sherry, naked. I remember thinking ‘You old shit, I guess you got me this time, but it’s the last time you’ll ever see me.’
When Cosby called to invite her to a show, she accepted, and she went to his suite, and she accepted the same drink that he’d drugged the last time he saw her, and he raped her again. And some people ask, “Why did she go back? Why did she accept the drink? I never would have gone back. If it’s true, it was her own fault, but to be honest, she’s probably lying. She just wants a payout, and to be famous.”
Yes, that’s what every woman wants: to become rich and famous for accusing a beloved TV dad of rape, in the process sharing a tremendously traumatic experience and exposing herself to the censure of a world that’s pretty sure she’s just a lying, money-grubbing slut. She’s living the dream.
Tarshis’s real sin, in the eyes of her accusers, is simply not acting the way a rape victim is “supposed” to act. I mean, she’s already lost validity points for going to see the man voluntarily, rather than being dragged into the bushes and assaulted by a complete stranger. But then to not dissolve into a tearful and/or catatonic existence after being raped? To not be cowering and fearful? To not immediately run to the police? To not fall, sobbing, onto her mother’s shoulder and gasp that she was raped? That’s how she was supposed to act. That’s how rape victims act. I’ve seen it on TV.
Alternately, we can look at what she actually said: that her mother was glowingly proud of Tarshis’s work with Cosby. That when she answered the phone and relayed Cosby’s invitation to the show, Tarshis couldn’t bring herself to turn it down, because that would raise questions and she’d have to tell her mother what happened. That Tarshis blamed herself, as rape victims so frequently do, and felt guilty and ashamed of what she had allowed to happen. That she was “repulsed by the thought of seeing him again,” but that she “saw no way out.”
And while it sounds like the kind of thing that could cause us to shake our heads about the culture in 1969 that made her so ashamed of a horrible thing that had been done to her, the fact is that it still happens to rape victims on a regular basis nearly 50 years later. Just this year, a judge in Georgia overturned a rape conviction because the victim — a 24-year-old woman with Down syndrome — didn’t “behave like a victim” when she reported her rape. In South Carolina in 2010, a woman who was raped by a police officer was forced to recant her testimony because — you got it — she didn’t “look like a rape victim” at the hospital after her assault. In 2011, 14 former U.S. service members filed a class action lawsuit against the Pentagon alleging that rape and other sexual abuse went unaddressed, in one case because, despite bruises from being held down, the victim didn’t act like a rape victim. Time and time again, rape victims are disparaged by authorities because they started or continued to date their rapist, because their rapist was in a position of influence, because they chose to take a shower and get on with their lives rather than going to the authorities to bring their assailant to justice.
So a 19-year-old woman, afraid and ashamed after being drugged and raped by a man who pretended to be a friend and mentor, felt she had no other option than to accept Cosby’s invitation to his show, despite being “repulsed by the thought of seeing him again”? Didn’t stare, glassy-eyed, into the middle distance like a character on Law & Order: SVU? Didn’t immediately run to the cops or yell, “No way am I going anywhere with you, you rapist!” as soon as she got the invitation, like you totally would, because you’ve never been raped but if you were you wouldn’t stop until your rapist was behind bars? And thus we can probably safely assume that she’s lying, or at least that she should be held responsible for not preventing her own rape?
Here’s how I see it: There are a whole lot of people out there who aren’t acting like people with compassion, empathy, or even basic listening and reasoning skills. So it’s probably safe to assume that they aren’t actually humans at all. They’re probably lying about being actual human beings. At the very least, they should be held responsible for being assholes.
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