“Well, she didn’t act like a rape victim,” Cosby edition

[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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15 comments for ““Well, she didn’t act like a rape victim,” Cosby edition

  1. November 19, 2014 at 1:12 am

    The fact that women who go back to their rapists are perceived as having not been actually raped shows how so little has changed in society. Legislative changes that formally oppose the relegation of women to men’s property have certainly changed the appearance of things (and maybe also altered the rate of incidence slightly).

    But the (real or perceived) proximity of a female rape victim to her male rapist is still seen as proof that she wasn’t really raped. Since (real or perceived) physical, emotional, or otherwise relational proximity is understood as a confirmation of her sexual ownership by men, the emphasis on proximity is ultimately a reapplication of patriarchy’s principle of ownership. That’s why she may gain slightly more sympathy if she is raped by a stranger. Because women’s pain in being raped is, by default, falsely constructed by patriarchy as “He’s the wrong man” as opposed to “I am being brutalized through bodily violation.” (Of course those feelings can coexist, but patriarchy tries to emphasize the former kind at the expense of the latter kind, as if the range of women’s traumatic experiences must always be limited if not erased.)

    Women who are raped under patriarchy are seen as deserving of sympathy only if they respect its (un)official laws, if they talk about their rape in ways that are sanctioned by patriarchy. And that’s another reason why they are compelled to act like “proper victims.”

  2. Drahill
    November 19, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Part of the problem with arguing that one “didn’t act like a victim” is also because we live in a society that has done such a bang-up job of muddying the waters that a ton of rape victims actually aren’t initially sure they’ve been victimized at all. I can’t tell you the number of victims I’ve met through my life who will say something to the effect of “well, I feel violated but I’m not really sure if he (usually, a he) did anything wrong.” They truly are confused as to whether any crime took place. And that is messed up. I’ve met victims who were taken to report to the cops by relatives, and that signaled to the cops that they could take this case less seriously because the victim couldn’t be “totally sure” a crime happened. When cases involve drugs and/or alcohol, victims are often even less sure of themselves, and that creates more of an incentive for predators. This story is pretty familiar to me because it’s common. People like Bill Cosby know how to operate in this type of environment pretty well.

  3. Angie unduplicated
    November 19, 2014 at 10:03 am

    A previous column on abortion referenced this issue as “Who owns your body?”. A prospective employer does not own it. Employers only rent your labor. The tired old troll argument that pussy is a renewable resource conveniently ignores the fact that it is extremely illegal to trespass on your neighbor’s property and mine his natural gas, cut his timber, or even hunt. Even in a nation where energy companies own or rent Congressmen by the gross, this trespass is (usually) understood.

    Law enforcement officers really should learn that It Does Not Matter if the vic doesn’t look like his/her stereotypes and isn’t sure if she owns her private parts. They are hers, they are attached to her body, rape is rape, and public employees are complicit and legally liable if they fail to do the job they are paid to do. I would sooooo love to see some of these bastards hauled into court on abuse of authority and civil tort violations.

    In a related case, New York Times reports a new effort to use civil forfeiture monies to test out backlogged rape kits. Civil forfeiture is blatantly unconstitutional, overwhelmingly applied to nonwhites, and makes travel with funds over and above gas money a perilous proposition for anyone with a cosmetically unacceptable vehicle.
    This is the state holding women hostage so they can get away with another crime. The backlog should be financed via the usual annual budgets of the police departments, with money specifically allocated from taxes.

    The Cosbys and Saviles of the world make me cast a side-eye on anyone in the entertainment industry working with children, and on their agents.

  4. November 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

    reminds me of the clarence thomas hearings where people castigated anita hill because she stayed in a job where she was being sexually harassed. their question was “why did you stay?” same question put to domestic violence survivors. the main gist is situations are complicated with underpinnings that are not readily observable to third parties. nothing is totally black or white. other factors make for gray areas.

  5. Jerry
    November 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    People are so damn sure that they know how people should act in any event where there’s violation, violence, shock, or trauma. When someone doesn’t act that way — yep, they’re up to something. I guess they forgot that the movies and TV shows where they learned all that are fiction.

    When I hear people go on like this, I wish for a big rubber stamp to apply to their forehead that says:

    LIFE ISN’T A MOVIE!

  6. Jerry
    November 19, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Also…

    Like most people in their 60’s, I’ve become educated about drugs’ unwanted side effects and interactions. Do any of these date-rape-drug-administering lowlifes ever think that by hitting a woman with a powerful pharmaceutical when they know nothing about her health or medications that she may be using, that they could kill her?

    • November 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      Simple answer: they probably know, but they don’t care. Rapists have no regard for the well-being of their victims.

  7. Donna L
    November 19, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Where is that magical “payout” that everyone is saying all these 15 women coming forward (including Janice Dickinson now) supposedly want, that supposedly makes up for all the abuse they’re receiving for speaking up? I have yet to see one person explain this.

    • November 19, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Where is that magical “payout” that everyone is saying all these 15 women coming forward (including Janice Dickinson now…

      Janis Dickinson actually brought this up as far back as 2006
      http://gawker.com/janice-dickinson-book-publisher-halted-bill-cosby-rape-1660790467

      Whoopi Goldberg is unpredictably coming down on the wrong side of this one. She is someone who I admire so much and she ruins it by saying such horrible stuff.

      • Donna L
        November 19, 2014 at 9:24 pm

        I’m not surprised at all, ever since she defended Roman Polanski by saying what he did wasn’t “rape rape.” Because I guess drugging a child and then sodomizing her doesn’t count.

      • PrettyAmiable
        November 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm

        Yeah, I’ve been pretty anti-Whoopi ever since, which sucks because I still love Sister Act. I’m also not surprised by her reaction.

      • November 20, 2014 at 8:58 pm

        I would have thought my ‘unpredictably’ was obvious sarcasm, but yeah, I was thinking of that and her defense of Mel Gibson, and wasn’t surprised at all either.

      • PrettyAmiable
        November 23, 2014 at 2:54 pm

        Oh! I’m mostly not surprised when people don’t know that common favorite childhood stars actually believe shitty things. Except for Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vax stuff.

  8. Cactus Wren
    November 20, 2014 at 6:47 am

    I think that a lot of people want, like teenaged real-person-fanfiction writers, to project a fictional character’s traits onto the actor who portrayed him. They look at Cosby and want to see Cliff Huxtable, or the genial narrator of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. And everyone knows and trusts Dr. Huxtable! How could he possibly have done such a terrible thing? Oh, no, it must be a Very Special Episode and culminate with his accuser being proven a heartbreakingly troubled person but irrefutably Wrong.

  9. Kristen
    November 23, 2014 at 11:55 am

    I feel so bad for the young woman in this article. She was just a child. How could you feel anything but sympathy for her.

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