An Open Letter to Whoopi Goldberg

Here's why women often don't immediately report sexual assault, let alone get rape kits.


Dear Whoopi,

On Monday, you expressed confusion on The View about Cosby accuser Barbara Bowman‘s actions after her alleged rape at age 17: “Perhaps the police might have believed it. Or the hospital. Don’t you do a kit when you say someone has raped you?”

You weren’t strident, you weren’t defensive, you seemed — oddly enough — sincere. “I’m going to reserve my judgment because I have a lot of questions,” you said. I believe that you’re genuinely confused.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around the fact that a person can do both horrible things and worthwhile things and occupy the same body. I remember writing a college admission essay about the fact that Charles Dickens, my favorite author, was a terrible husband. Could I separate art from artist? Should I?

Obviously, this is harder. The investment in believing Bill Cosby to be the genial standup comedian, philanthropist, father figure … it’s profound. For that man to also potentially be a sexual predator? All of us slide in and out of selfishness and generosity, kindness and crank. But this is another level. It’s Roman Polanski. Or Oscar Pistorius. Or Lance Armstrong. We are large, wrote Whitman. We contain multitudes. Not all of the multitudes are pretty.

But if we can agree on the complexity of the individual, Whoopi — and I think we can, given everything you said — we agree too that it is possible that Bill Cosby raped Barbara Bowman. Does her behavior after the alleged rape in any way contradict her story? It does not. And I’d like to explain why, because the questions you asked are so very common.

I was raped at 17. My rapist was not a powerful celebrity. He was a nobody. But I didn’t go to the police. I didn’t go to a hospital.

Why don’t we tell, Whoopi? Because our skin burns with shame. I thought my body would never get clean, not only from him but from my own stupidity and weakness. The minute after it ended I felt like I was being torn into pieces, like I was on fire, and I just wanted to shower. I felt crazy, confused, angry, beaten, lost, like I had a zipper running from throat to naval. I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt before or since. I felt like the severed pieces of my body were floating in darkness. I felt savaged. I felt terrified.

Here’s what I did not feel: capable of calmly picking up the phone. Capable of walking to the hospital and talking to one functionary after another. Capable of filling out paperwork. Capable of being touched by another person without exploding into flames. Capable of functioning at all like a human being because I wasn’t a human being. I felt like if I even went outside of my room my organs would explode out of my body. How would I explain that to the cops?

Ultimately, I told one person who I swore to secrecy. Had I allowed him to tell others, my rapist would perhaps be serving time rather than serving sandwiches in a vegetarian restaurant in the Bronx where, last I heard, he was a manager*. But I believed I was to blame.

Months passed before I told someone else, but they did not take appropriate action, and he remained free. Years passed before I went into detail about it — in a cover story for a newspaper, no less — and I didn’t use his name. Even now I allow him to have a family, a business, a good life, from what I hear, because I think to myself: Well, he was young. Maybe he’s changed. We contain multitudes. It’s complicated.

Why don’t I tell? Deep down, I still feel like that terrible girl who made something bad happen. I think about confronting him, sure. But I do nothing. I will do nothing. If he were a celebrity, however, you bet your fucking ass I’d tell my story.

Whoopi, when someone like you asks these questions, you do all victims of sexual assault and rape a great disservice.

I saw Happy Valley recently, a documentary about Jerry Sandusky, whose sex crimes enraged you, as you made clear on The View. In the doc, Sandusky’s adopted son Matt, who was abused by Jerry for years, says of the abuse, “It ruins you.” I felt that sentence like a punch in the stomach. Yes, I was ruined. I am ruined. I’m sorry that I did not complete the coursework as required to get the bastard in jail. I haven’t completed any of my life’s coursework since that night.

Follow @lspikol on Twitter.

*This post has been updated to clarify this person’s occupation.