Camille Cosby and America's Culture of Rape

When I first heard of the unfolding violence comedian Bill Cosby had allegedly inflicted on dozens of women, I felt a flood of dreaded recognition wash over me. I too am a victim of acquaintance rape. It was 1992, the night I graduated from high school. I accompanied a "girlfriend" to a "party" only to later learn it was a carefully planned ruse to isolate and then abuse me.

In haunting flashes that remain seated in my soul, I can recall being violently pinned to a ragged tweed couch, rebuking the advances of a man -- an athlete -- twice my size and incomparable in strength. Twenty-three years sadder and 23 years madder, I cannot shake the memory of my clothes being torn from me, buttons hitting the hardwood floor with full force, my hands being violently slapped away, and then pinned over my head, where I was told to keep them. Or else. I was too scared to move my hands, to push his weight off me, to scream for help. Instead, I froze, physically bearing down as if I could disappear into the sofa, even as he used his knee to force my legs apart. Tears rolled into my hair as the weight of him, a man I'd only met once, angrily crushed my pelvis, over and over again. With each thrust, a part of me broke off like those Russian nesting dolls I used to play with, marveling over how each girl held a smaller one inside her.

Broken, I lay there a lesser version of my former self. Hadn't anyone heard the loveseat wearing a groove into the wood floor? My cries and conversely his insults, threats; his insistence that I tell him I belonged to him; that I loved him; that I was an uppity slut who deserved what she got? That I brought this on myself? Each and every moment seemed flush, vulnerable and tender to the touch, various small open wounds susceptible to the slightest provocation.

I, like Bill Cosby's many complainants, was robbed of the luxury of choice. Our worlds shrunk, turning hostile, untrusting, mere moments, hours, and days to be gotten through. Because I too was drugged (my drink was spiked with alcohol) my rapist -- a popular basketball player -- who was as adept on the court as he was in denying that he had done anything wrong -- escaped accountability and thus punishment. Immediately, it was my word against his. And, as is the tradition in America, the victim blaming and slut shaming ensued in earnest: my pain was trivialized as my supposedly poor choices came under intense scrutiny. Bill Cosby's alleged victims know this mortification well. That dozens of women stepped forward with near identical stories of personal violation only to be met with doubt and prodding questions until irrefutable proof was laid out before their detractors further proved that our sex crimes culture has changed little since the term was first introduced by second-wave feminists in the 1970s. That there is even a statute of limitations adds to an ethos that routinely victimizes the victim, placing the burden on the aggrieved and not the aggressor.

There hasn't been a more notorious and unexpected assailant than America's dad, who has been accused of drugging and sexually abusing over 40 women. In a 2005 deposition, he admitted to giving Quaaludes to women he hoped to sleep with. What makes this more egregious is the fact that Cosby's wife, Camille, a seemingly erudite and cultivated philanthropist, has not only stood sentry at his side, but sources say she believes that each and every woman engaged in consensual sex even though report after report argued otherwise. And it's her staunch and fantastically odd support that has single-handedly contributed and advanced our tradition of rape. Shame on her.

It is a vicious crime and Mrs. Cosby is as complicit as her husband. By reducing these purported instances to mere philandering, she enabled Cosby's alleged run as one of our nation's most prolific sex offenders when she chose not to notify authorities nor take any of the accusations seriously. I'm not implying that this would have been an easy decision, but it should have been a necessary one. She can love her husband without cosigning his perversions and hiding his offenses. And if Mr. Cosby can no longer claim innocence or ignorance, neither should his wife who for years has acted as his business manager. In doing so, Mrs. Cosby is re-victimizing all the women who summoned the courage to come forward and share their stories. Perhaps had she spoken out earlier, the number of victims would be smaller. Further, what can be said of a woman who allows for the abuse of other women in an attempt to preserve her husband's legacy and consequently great wealth?

There is a vast difference between being a loyal wife and a witting participant in a series of wrongdoings. And contrary to public opinion, rape is not a punishment for one's provocative dress, a permissible practice in U.S. jails, or for that matter, an acceptable tactical war crime. As the Cosby fiasco has unfolded with frank recriminations, I've wondered if Mrs. Cosby would have acted differently had her husband been accused of murder or robbery? Certainly, one would hope that she would view these as acts worthy of punishment. How often has the media interrogated the families of serial criminals, curious if they witnessed concerning signs, eager for them to make sense of the senseless? The lack of action on the part of Mrs. Cosby typifies a philosophy that reduces a violent crime to a victimless sex act, the rapist's denial against the accountability of the injured.

I can never return to my pre-rape self. As a means of self-preservation, I broke off whole pieces to save vital fragments. It was a furious violation, more about power and degradation than sex. Knowing this, I am appalled when Mrs. Cosby -- in the few times she's spoken out -- insists these horrific acts aren't criminal but rather the result of their open marriage or his chronic "philandering." In doing so, she's attempting to shift the dialogue from the crimes of an alleged serial rapist to consensual sex outside one's marriage, making it a familial issue and not a legal or even moral one. What cannot be disputed is that a civilized woman with manners beyond reproach couldn't have qualified her husband's crimes as the list of victims rose daily. As the Cosby's remained frustratingly silent, I found myself wondering if they would have taken such a callous stance had their daughter been the target of an affluent and powerful sex offender.

My assault has left me continually frightened, untrusting and broken. And as a survivor, I can attest that perhaps the only thing more insulting than the act itself is a civilization that minimizes the macabre. It took decades for the memories to grow progressively less persistent, making it difficult at best to escape what felt like a continual victimization. If there is anything we can learn from this haunting tale it is that for every rapist there's often an enabler who could and should put the civility of our society and safety of the prey before the needs of the predator. Allegedly, Mrs. Cosby has stated that she created her husband and perhaps it's time she evaluate exactly what she helped produced, because it certainly doesn't align with the righteous myth that was Bill Cosby.