Stop shaming survivors: the Cosby crisis

Elena Deeter, Opinion Editor


Trigger warning: this article contains topics of sexual assault.

Bill Cosby, America’s goofy, nostalgia-inducing grandfather, is perceived as a picture-perfect role model. So when 16 women, according to the Washington Post on the 22nd of November,  accuse Cosby of sexual assault the blame is deflected back at the women. We need to stop shaming survivors in the media because it makes us comfortable. No matter the outcome, shaming survivors that come forward publicly, rather than supporting them discourages other survivors from coming forward. For the sake of sensitivity, I will be using the term “survivor” instead of “victim”, and will be using the term “sexual assault”. They are personally preferred terms, others, respectably, may have their own.

Bill Cosby is among many celebrities that have been accused of sexual assault and found support in a general public. When these accusations come forward, a few things always seem to happen. First, the heartbroken fans quickly deny all of the accusations and then attack the women on comment boards. In these fans’ twisted minds, survivors are all out to seek attention, money or both. Another angry tactic is attacking the women’s appearance, calling them ugly or cheap hence, apparently, incapable of being assaulted in the first place.

After calling the women ugly liars, people ask why the women didn’t come forward earlier. Whoopi Goldberg, on The View, supported Cosby and questioned the women’s accusations, “Perhaps the police might have believed it. Or the hospital. Don’t you do a kit when you say someone has [sexually assaulted] you?”. If someone is sexually assaulted, it is 100% their choice whether or not to come forward. If they do decide to come forward, it’s important that they feel like it’s safe. How can we attack these survivors and then immediately ask them why they didn’t come forward earlier? The answer is in the question.

Brynna Morgan, a junior from Hamline who co-created the “Knowledge of Sexual Violence Policies and Incidents” Hamline survey, spoke on the problem, “I think its really unfortunate that it’s exposing how unwilling people are to believe that someone they’ve idolized did something wrong and we saw that with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski.” she said, ”It’s problematic that this is the popular perception of sexual assault and survivors because what people need is for people to believe them the most, and people are so unwilling to help others in that way.”

Too many people are on the side of the accused, including the media. It’s not just the fans that shame the survivors, it’s the “objective” journalists that do so too. As we all know word choice is important in journalism; loaded words can serve as implications of misdeed as well as traumatic triggers that can do damage.

A Fox News article headline read, “A seventh woman has claimed publicly that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted her, but she also says he helped her financially after she was injured in a car accident, and with her college education.” That’s survivor-blame speech for,“A woman claimed that she was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, but he gave her some money so it’s cool.” Maybe that’s harsh, but including those two unrelated statements in one sentence is loaded and unfair. Other articles just focus on how Cosby is doing or talk about the people who still support him. Where are the articles about how the survivors are doing?

I think what happens is that there’s a lot of guilt that comes with sexual assault cases. When someone is idolized, it’s hard to see them in a different light but that shouldn’t mean they are immune. Although men aren’t the only people who commit sexual assault and women certainly aren’t the only people who get sexually assaulted, the numbers are higher for those cases. Men can get defensive if the topic of a man sexually assaulting a woman surfaces. The problem of sexual objectification is not exclusive to men, so the defensiveness is unnecessary and harmful. Defensiveness leads people to bury the problem and stubbornly cut off all awareness, as often seen on college campuses around the country.

Morgan discussed the survey and the issue of survivor reporting, “ I think theres a lot of silence of sexual assault that’s finally being broken but the work of activists and sexual assault survivors are often seen as inaccurate or invalid.” she said, ” In the survey we did, we wanted to show that it does happen here and that we aren’t exempt from the sexual assault epidemic that’s recently being brought to light. This also gives a place for survivors who weren’t able to report, to feel like they are finally being heard through these statistics.” Surveys like these are important, as they bring hard important facts to surface. The “ignorance is bliss” approach to life is not an option. We need to change our perception of survivors and sexual assault.

 It can be so hard for survivors to report, and when they do they are shot down. No matter what happens in this Cosby case, we need to support the survivors and give them the benefit of the doubt, not just him. Innocent until proven guilty does not just apply to Cosby, it applies to the survivors too. Stop assuming all survivors are wrong until proven right.