How Bill Cosby's tactics keep traumatizing women, why silence makes trauma worse, and why we need a Cosby-Bill
On Saturday, dozens gathered at Bill Cosby's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to remember his legacy - just not the legacy he likes to be known for. Some of the women who accused him of rape and their supporters met to call attention to their plight that we need to change the law. Their rally cry: "No deadline on rape!" Why now? Why there? Because Cosby's star of fame has remained untouched - not only on the sidewalk, but also in the eyes of the law. The protesters are rallying to change the current California statute of limitations, because it leaves most rape victims no legal recourse ten years after the crime.
Here are the facts:
- Four dozen women have accused Bill Cosby, now 78, of sexual assault. More than 35 of them were courageous enough to tell their stories showing their faces.
- Bill Cosby has not been charged with a crime and states that all sexual encounters were consensual. Yet in a disposition ten years ago he did admit to using drugs and deceit.
- Because most of the alleged crimes happened decades ago, the statute of limitations has expired, and the women cannot press charges.
As a journalist, I have to assume Cosby's innocence as long as he has not been convicted of a crime. However, as an author and advocate for trauma survivors, the lack of understanding for the victims leaves me frustrated: I have spoken with countless survivors of sexual abuse who struggled for decades before they found the courage to speak about their pain. Self-blame, guilt, and fear are powerful emotions and extremely common after sexual assault. "It takes rape survivors time to weather the storm of shame and victimization," one of Cosby`s accusers, filmmaker Lili Bernard, said at the rally, "It's unfair that once you're ready to talk, you can't."
We can only begin to heal trauma when we express it, articulate it, and share it. We can only find safe ground when we find compassionate allies who believe us and walk this difficult path with us. And it is much easier to find closure when justice has been served and the perpetrator has been forced to take responsibility for his crimes.
Several of the women who accuse Cosby of rape did try to speak about what happened to them at the time, but they were rebuffed and ridiculed. Cosby was at the height of his fame, a moral bedrock of American conscience, a powerful figure in entertainment, a man with a pristine, fatherly public image.
When 14 women accused Cosby of rape ten years ago, they were not taken seriously. Nobody believed them, because Cosby had a powerful ally: us, the public. And well-paid attorneys who shamed the accusers.
Serial perpetrators often choose their victims "wisely" and prey on the vulnerable. They take their position of power to intimidate dependents. Each of the accuser's story is specific, but taken together, they also show frightening similarities: the Quaaludes, the intimidation, the abuse of power.
Lili Bernard says that Cosby threatened to kill her. "I was terrified that he would kill me," she said in Hollywood. When she finally found the courage to come forward, "I was barred because I was just a few month outside the statute of limitations."
One of the women who accuses Cosby of rape, Victoria Valentino, attended the rally to share how the entertainer comforted her in 1996 after the death of her 6-year-old son, but says he then went on to drug and rape her. "I was a grieving mother," Valentino told the Los Angeles Times, "That`s the kind of compassion these people have. None."
Changes are on the way: State Senator Connie Leyva has promised to introduce a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes such as rape, sodomy, and sexual abuse of minors. I`m calling it the Cosby-Bill. Because this might the only good that comes out this tragedy: that we get a new law that serves justice.
We need this bill. For the victims to get closure. For the rapists so that we can force them to take responsibility. And for all of us, because otherwise we leave perpetrators on the lam to commit more crimes and we will never know the truth.
We now need to be the allies of the survivors.