What we can learn from Bill Cosby rape allegations

Katie Smith, Editor in Chief

When Bill Cosby jokingly told a woman in the audience at an Ontario show to watch what she drinks around him, the crowd rewarded him with a laughter that cheapened the reports of 24 women who have accused the comedian of assaulting them. 

A scene at Cosby’s show in Denver on Monday perfectly illustrated the public’s reactions to the accusations: as he received a standing ovation indoors, a swarm of protestors huddled outside the venue in an outrage to the allegations that have surfaced about the comedian in the last decade.

Whether or not Cosby is guilty of any of these offenses, the public’s reaction to these allegations facilitates a conversation that our culture desperately needs to have.

Who is falsely reporting sexual assault?

According to research performed by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, only an estimated 2 to 8 percent of reports are false.

The conflict for some, however, lies in their definition of what constitutes “real rape.”

Attackers are not always hiding in bushes and dark alleyways, waiting patiently with knives.

They live next door, upstairs, down the street, down the hall. They can sleep on futons, or in mansions, or on the other side of the bed. In fact, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) found that 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance of the victim and 28 percent identify as an intimate.

These crimes generally aren’t taking place in alleys either; with four in ten incidents of sexual violence take place in the victim’s home.

When it comes to weaponry it doesn’t take a handgun or duct tape to commit assault. Alcohol, drugs, coercion and fear are equally as powerful tools.

Men and women are assaulted every day. That sentence reads as so benign on paper. It has become a fact of life we begrudgingly accept by imagining it as something that happens somewhere far away in a place that is always covered by shadows.

Rape is a word that teenagers feel comfortable using colloquially as meaning, “to defeat” or succeed.

When Bill Cosby jokingly told an audience member she needed to be careful drinking around him, the audience laughed.

I really believe what the audience did was offer Cosby a nervous gesture – something that meant, ‘that didn’t feel right, but where do we go from here?’ – a reaction people default to all the time.

What that kind of nervous reaction says to attackers is “I have a group of people who believe and support me,” while it can leave victims feeling resource-less.

When allegations like these come out, I am continually astounded at how quickly people will defend the accused and question or blame the accuser.

What is it that makes it easier for some to dismiss more than 20 detailed reports for the word of one person who is openly unwilling to say anything at all?

Sexual assault is a serious crime and reports of it warrant investigation.

An even more serious crime, in my opinion, is rejecting the statements of individuals who are asking for help, without giving them serious consideration.

2 to 8 percent of reports of sexual abuse may be false, but 98 percent of attackers will never spend a day in prison.

Furthermore, 68 percent of assaults in the last five years were not even reported, perhaps partially out of fear, or embarrassment, or confusion – perhaps because when someone accused of sexual abuse jokes about rape on stage, the audience laughs.

Katie Smith is a senior journalism major and can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].