What We Need to Talk About When Discussing the Bill Cosby Allegations

How about the systems that have perpetuated sexual assault and rape, for starters?

Bill Cosby (via Shutterstock)

Bill Cosby (via Shutterstock)

To be frank, it’s hard for me to follow the Cosby allegations. Despite all that we’ve learned from the latest court decisions and depositions, Bill Cosby has still never been charged and has denied all allegations. But the dialogue around all of it reminds me that my family has seen firsthand how laws protect accused rapists, how the unthinkable can become all too real, and how predators carefully calculate their prey. Unfortunately, this story isn’t an isolated incident. We live in a male-chauvinistic system that is beyond broken, and the Cosby allegations fit the same all-too-familiar narrative that has plagued our culture for centuries.

But this is 2015: In a world where sex and sexuality have become so laissez-faire, we should be able to have a more transparent discussion about the systems that have perpetuated sexual assault and rape. But clearly, given our reaction to the Cosby situation, it’s like we still don’t believe that “these things can happen.” News flash: Rape is happening every day. It’s time to get real.

The only way to do that is to have honest conversations in our communities about sex, sexual shame, and the ridiculousness of victim-blaming. We should also get fired up about how our laws protect the perpetrators and how statutes of limitations give rapists a “get out of jail free” card, especially given the psychological torment many victims undergo before they feel ready to confront their rapists.

In short, we need people to speak out. We need to stop sharing those Cosby memes on Facebook and start sharing how resilient many rape victims are. We need to agree that it’s disgusting to use one’s power to get sexual favors and just as wrong to use that power (and money) to keep an accuser silent. We need people to talk.

When the latest Cosby news broke, one of my colleagues wrote a daring and deeply personal narrative about her own rape. It was brave and really selfless. I remember sharing Liz’s essay on my personal Facebook page, and by the end of the week, three of my friends privately shared their own stories with me. I was in such a perplexed state: I was deeply moved that they trusted me with their stories, and yet I was furious at how similar the narratives were, that these people felt so ashamed they never told anyone but close family (if that), that they felt like they needed some sort of vindication but didn’t know where to turn.

As we continue to watch the Cosby case unfold, it is essential that we remember that these alleged victims are, by far, not even the tip of a very deep cultural iceberg. There are thousands of rape victims who are living in shame, living in silence. It’s time for the same narrative to stop and for our culture to have an honest discussion about the system that allows rapists to walk free. It’s time to have the conversation once and for all.